COVID concerns: Nova Scotia cancels Yarmouth-Maine ferry service for 2020

The CAT, a high-speed passenger ferry, departs Yarmouth, N.S. heading to Portland, Maine on its first scheduled trip on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The Nova Scotia government has cancelled the 2020 sailing season for the heavily subsidized ferry service that links the province with Maine, citing the ongoing struggle to contain COVID-19 in the United States.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday the Canada-U.S. border has been kept closed for a good reason.

“Like many of you, I am concerned about the number of (COVID-19) cases that we hear about in the U.S,” he told a virtual news conference.

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“We will eventually open up Nova Scotia even more to other Canadian provinces, but opening up to the U.S in the near future does not seem safe.”

The money-losing service, operated by Charlottetown-based Bay Ferries Ltd., had said in February that crossings were expected to start by June 26.

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The company operates The Cat, a high-speed catamaran ferry that was to sail between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, where the company was completing renovations on the ferry terminal.

Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald issued a statement Friday saying the decision to cancel the season was difficult but obvious.

“International non-essential travel worldwide has essentially come to a standstill,” he said.

“It is not clear when U.S. operations would be permitted to occur, what opportunity would exist for proper marketing of the service, and what short-term customer demand would be. In the circumstances, we are focused on reduction of cost.”

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The problem-plagued ferry cost provincial taxpayers an extra $4 million as it also sat idle for the entire 2019 sailing season.

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Zach Churchill, the Liberal member of the legislature who represents the Yarmouth area, has said the additional costs are associated with tying up the ferry and upgrading the U.S. terminal.

In total, the province spent $17.8 million on the idled service last year.

The season was scrapped last year when Bay Ferries was unable to complete construction work at the terminal to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection specifications. The work was necessary after the company moved its U.S entry point from Portland, Maine, where the ferry had operated for five years.

In 2018, work at the terminal forced Bay Ferries to cancel and delay bookings several times before finally suspending them in July.

Bay Ferries’ original plan for 2020 was to offer crossings six days a week – every day but Wednesdays – until the season ended on Oct. 13.

The ferry is expected to remain at its off-season port in Charleston, S.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.


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