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U.S. Navy still in ‘very beginning’ stages of possibly leasing ship to Bay Ferries

Click to play video: 'Bay Ferries makes a move to lease ship from United States Navy'
Bay Ferries makes a move to lease ship from United States Navy
WATCH ABOVE: The United States Navy has told Global News it is still in the very early stages of figuring out whether one of its ships can be leased to Bay Ferries for the Yarmouth to Maine route. Global’s Marieke Walsh reports – Feb 19, 2016

A potential lease agreement between the United States Navy and Bay Ferries for a Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry route is at the “very beginning of the process.”

Spokesperson Nathan Potter with the navy’s Military Sealift Command said there’s no timeline on the process but a decision is “certainly more than days” away.

READ MORE: Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry will run this year: Nova Scotia transportation minister

Last week, Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan confirmed Bay Ferries is in talks with the US Navy to lease a ferry that used to serve as a Hawaii Superferry before it went to the navy. The ship has operated under the names Alakai and USNS Puerto Rico, but Potter said it’s now called the HST 2.

It hasn’t seen any action since it was acquired by the navy in 2012 and is under caretaker status at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

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In order for the lease agreement to be considered, the navy has to comply with “competitive procedures,” Potter said. If a lease agreement goes ahead it will require the secretary of the navy’s approval “that’s as high as you can go in the navy,” he said.

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This isn’t the first time the navy has managed such a request, but the last time a similar deal was struck is over 20 years ago.

“Certainly it’s not typical,” Potter said.

The navy is still hammering out what this type of competitive process would look like. First, the navy has to determine if it’s appropriate to lease the ship and then it must lay out the competitive procedures to develop a lease.

Potter could not confirm whether other companies are also interested in leasing the ferry.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia could help pay to buy ferry for service to Maine: minister

Despite the lack of a timeline from the navy, MacLellan says he’s confident a ship will be found in time for the 2016 sailing season, which is set to begin in June.

“Everyone who is involved in this conservation understands the tight timeline,” MacLellan said in an interview Friday. “Of course the U.S. government and the navy have a diligence process, and they have to follow that we would never expect, and I know Bay Ferries, wouldn’t expect anything otherwise.”

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“They’re getting to a more positive position in terms of the likelihood of securing this vessel,” he added. “Negotiations haven’t begun formally so I can’t say that they’re confirming anything in the next couple days.”

MacLellan added that Bay Ferries is also pursuing other ships so this isn’t the only option for the 2016 sailing season.

“We’re now into late February, March will be on us very quickly and the time is important,” MacLellan said. “These next few weeks are certainly critical.”

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