P.E.I.-N.S. ferry service resumes 5 days after MV Holiday Island fire

·5 min read
P.E.I.-N.S. ferry service resumes 5 days after MV Holiday Island fire

Ferry crossings between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia resumed Wednesday, almost a week after an engine room fire on MV Holiday Island put a halt to all ferry service to and from the Island.

MV Confederation departed the harbour at Wood Islands, P.E.I. at 7 a.m. AT with about 44 vehicles on board — about average for the first trip on a Wednesday morning, according to operator Northumberland Ferries Ltd. It held 14 trucks, six motorcycles, four campers and about 20 cars.

The Confederation will be running four round trips per day to start, with the last trip back toward Caribou, N.S., departing at 6:30 p.m. AT. The times are:

  • From Wood Islands at 7 and 10 a.m. and 1:30 and 5 p.m. AT.

  • From Caribou at 8:30 and 11:45 a.m. and 3:15 and 6:30 p.m. AT.

Northumberland Ferries says it is working on a plan to expand the Confederation schedule to six round trips per day on weekdays, as early as next week.

The resumption followed five days of no ferry service as the company dealt with the aftermath of the fire. During that time, the only way to get a vehicle on or off the Island was via the Confederation Bridge that links P.E.I. and New Brunswick.

More than 200 people had to be evacuated from the Holiday Island Friday afternoon as it approached Wood Islands with heavy smoke rising to the sky due to a fire in the ship's engine room.

As of late Tuesday, Transportation Safety Board inspectors were still waiting to get access to that room to start the process of determining what went wrong.

Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada
Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada

John Dalziel is a former Transport Canada Marine Safety inspector who worked 50 years in ship construction and repair supervision.

He told CBC News the fact the fire continued to burn for more than 24 hours despite attempts to put it out indicates something obviously went very wrong.

"If you can seal the engine room and you flood it with carbon dioxide, the fire should go out," he said.

"The fact that the fire continued so long suggests that maybe it didn't work as well as it should have. And certainly when they have a chance to look at this more closely, they can evaluate why that happened."

Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada
Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada

Northumberland Ferries and the federal government have said they are looking at options to replace the ferry.

In 2019, Ottawa announced it would procure a new vessel to replace the Holiday Island, though that's not expected until at least 2027.

Dalziel said it is very likely the Holiday Island will never operate again — and finding a replacement ferry won't be easy.

"To find a ship that suits those terminals, it may take some time," he said. "Hopefully people are thinking very quickly right now as to what the options are. And there probably are good options."

Replacement could be ready this summer, minister says

During a stop in P.E.I. Wednesday, Cardigan MP and cabinet minister Lawrence MacAulay said the federal government is already in discussions to get a temporary replacement.

Though MacAulay said he couldn't divulge any details on how the talks are going and risk jeopardizing negotiations, he did say they have "advanced further" than he thought they would have at this point in time.

He said the replacement could even be in place before the end of the tourism season.

"That's a reasonable possibility, a very good possibility," he said.

Northumberland Ferries has said the MV Confederation can handle about 85 per cent of normal traffic. But MacAulay said that having two ferries gives tourists confidence they will be able to get to their destination.

"It's so vitally important that we have two ferries so that we keep all the traffic moving," he said. "If you wonder 'Well I might get on, I might not get on,' perhaps you wouldn't bother coming to Prince Edward Island. That's what I'm concerned about."

Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada
Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada

MacAulay said the potential replacement is not the C.T.M.A. Vacancier, the ferry that once sailed between Souris and Cap-aux-Meules in the Magdalen Islands during the winter.

The federally-owned Vacancier has been docked in Georgetown since late 2021.

"I'm told by people ... it would be a water problem and a dredging problem possibly," MacAulay said. "I'm not the expert on this, but this is the information I received, that with that ferry it could be difficult."

Union calling for mental health supports

In the meantime, Canada's largest private sector union is calling on Northumberland Ferries to ensure proper mental health supports are available for workers involved in taking off passengers and securing the ship until it could be towed to the wharf for unloading.

Unifor said in a news release on Tuesday that members of Locals 4508 and 4508A, which represent Northumberland Ferries employees, were essential in ensuring passengers left the ship quickly and without major injury by following emergency procedures.

"It is our expectation that the employer has counsellors in place to provide the required assistance to our members and provide any time away from the work environment to those employees who have had to work through such a terrifying situation," Linda McNeil, Unifor's Atlantic regional director, said in the release.

"The fact that every passenger young and old — including those with mobility issues — and every crew member made it off a burning vessel is due to the heroic efforts of the MV Holiday Island crew."

'Blessing in disguise'? 

Passengers CBC News spoke with as they waited to board the Confederation on Wednesday had no qualms about taking the ferry.

In fact, Chris Hancock, who is from the area, thinks the fire may have been a "blessing in disguise" if it leads to acquiring a new ferry.

"Maybe it's time to get another ferry and maybe this thing will actually speed things up and obviously it's great that nobody was hurt."

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