Marine Atlantic ferry free after becoming trapped in ice off Cape Breton

A Marine Atlantic ferry that became trapped in ice on Tuesday off the coast of Cape Breton has been freed. 

The MV Highlanders was trapped about 300 metres from open water near Low Point, N.S., said Marine Atlantic spokesperson Darrell Mercer. He confirmed the ferry was free of the ice around 8 p.m. 

"The ice conditions around Cape Breton, we weren't anticipating that there was going to be much of an impact," he said.

"But unfortunately, the wind conditions over the past day or so has increased the pressure around the land on Cape Breton."

Another Marine Atlantic ferry — the MV Blue Puttees — left Port aux Basques, N.L., late Tuesday morning to try to cut a path for the Highlanders to get out into open water.

The Blue Puttees had to briefly shut down its engines due to ice clog, said Mercer. It's since docked in North Sydney.

The company has also contacted the Canadian Coast Guard, but Mercer said it wasn't clear when an icebreaker would arrive due to all the calls for service to deal with sea ice around Newfoundland.

The last two storm systems in Atlantic Canada came with persistent and strong northerly winds. Those winds have pushed the sea ice up against the coast of the Northumberland Strait and filled in Sydney harbour. 

MV Highlanders was previously stuck in ice off Cape Breton two years ago. It's the same ferry that was halted by strong winds and high seas between Sunday and Monday.

Mother Nature gets 'final say'

The Highlanders left North Sydney, N.S., at around noon on Tuesday and got stuck shortly after with 209 passengers, 85 commercial vehicles and 65 other vehicles on board.

"There is a significant traffic volume on it today, especially where we were backed up the last couple of days due to the high winds and the sea state," Mercer said.

"We're trying to get that vessel moving as quickly as possible but Mother Nature is going to have the final say of when it can get freed."

CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell said a rainy, windy weather system heading toward the region on Thursday should bring southerly winds that may start to move the ice off the coast.