On Wednesday, Marine Atlantic announced that it will be adding a new vessel to its fleet in 2024.
The new ferry will carry up to 1000 passengers and crew, have 146 passenger cabins, and feature 40 new two-berth "pods."
"The vessel is going to be a big enhancement from where we are today," said Marine Atlantic president and CEO Murray Hupman. "It's going to provide a lot of opportunity and long-term benefits for Newfoundland and Labrador."
In a news release, Marine Atlantic said it entered into a five-year agreement with U.K. company Stena North Sea to charter the vessel, with the option of purchasing it.
The new agreement won't mean an increase in cost for passengers because the federal government already provided Marine Atlantic with funding for the vessel in the 2019 budget.
Hupman said the new 200-metre vessel will look similar to the existing Blue Puttees and Highlanders ferries but will incorporate new green technology.
He said the ship will use dual-fuel technology and batteries, which will reduce its carbon footprint. The vessel will also have reduced underwater noise levels to limit its impact on marine life.
Marine Atlantic does not currently allow passengers to bring pets into their cabins, but Hupman said the new vessel will have pet-friendly cabins.
"One of the biggest issues we've seen over the last few years is the ability for people to take their pets to their cabins and have them as a part of the experience. So that's something we're going to build and incorporate in the vessel as we go along," Hupman said.
During the pandemic, he said, 50 per cent of passengers have cancelled their bookings if they are unable to secure a cabin. He says the sleeping pods will help with the problem.
Like the other passenger vessels in the Marine Atlantic fleet, the ferry will have food service options, a children's play area, and seating options. Hupman said the new vessel will replace either the Atlantic Vision or the Leif Ericson.
Rise in travel demand
Hupman said Marine Atlantic passenger levels dropped significantly at the beginning of the pandemic, but as vaccination numbers rise and interprovincial travel picks up, demand has gone back up.
Marine Atlantic ferries are still operating on reduced capacity due to public health restrictions, and Hupman says vessels are reaching maximum passenger capacity most nights.
"It has been a good summer so far, but it has been a busy summer as well," he said.
Hupman said Marine Atlantic is working to provide additional crossings. The Atlantic Vision is set to offer two additional crossings on the Port aux Basques to North Sydney route, and more could be added to the schedule.
Despite the reduced capacity, he said, passenger and crew feedback on public health protocols has been positive.
"We have to manage as safely as we possibly can."