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Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry suspended for 2021 season due to COVID-19

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 ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbour, Maine, has been suspended for the 2021 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bay Ferries’ CAT will sit idle for another year as the travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S. remain strict and are not expected to change in the near future.

“It is a disappointing decision to have to make, but given the ongoing uncertainty, it is really the only choice we have. We must keep Nova Scotians safe,” Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines said in a release.

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

This is the third full year the ferry will not be operating.

Last year, the ferry season was suspended due to increasing COVID-19 case counts in the U.S. and travel restrictions, much like this year’s reasoning.

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In 2019, work at the terminal forced the ferry operator, Bay Ferries Ltd., to cancel and delay bookings several times as U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered renovations to the Bar Harbor terminal building before it would put agents in place to process ferry passengers. Ultimately, the season was cancelled in July 2019.

The Yarmouth ferry has not sailed since October 2018, when it last travelled to Portland, Maine.

Click to play video: '‘We’re still very hopeful’: province not yet waving white flag on CAT season' ‘We’re still very hopeful’: province not yet waving white flag on CAT season
‘We’re still very hopeful’: province not yet waving white flag on CAT season – Aug 29, 2019

Pam Mood, the mayor of Yarmouth, says it was the right decision to make.

“The health and safety of our citizens is the most important thing as we continue to maneuver our way through the pandemic,” Mood said in the release.

Read more: Construction at Bar Harbor ferry terminal not yet complete

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Hines says the province is committed to the ferry service and will resume it when circumstances allow.

“Many Nova Scotians invest time, effort and money based on this ferry service, and many highly skilled people work on it. We are appreciative of their service and effort and know they will understand the circumstances.”

The province says another factor that led to this decision was knowing that a critical percentage of Nova Scotians and Americans will likely not be vaccinated against COVID-19 until the summer.

“Making the decision now will help reduce costs in areas such as marketing, hiring additional ship and terminal crew, and moving The Cat ferry to Yarmouth,” it says in the release.

Read more: Nova Scotia judge reserves decision on Tory lawsuit seeking disclosure of ferry fee

Operation of the Yarmouth-Maine ferry is part of a 10-year deal inked between the Charlottetown-based Bay Ferries and the provincial government in 2016.

In 2019, the province spent $17.8 million on the idled service. Approximately $8.5 million of that was for upgrading the terminal in Bar Harbor.

Nova Scotia’s operational subsidy for the ferry’s 2020 season was set for $16.3 million — a new high.

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However, as a result of the 2020 season’s cancellation, and now the 2021 season cancellation, it’s not clear what dollar amount the province remains on the hook for.

The provincial contract for the ferry service is valid through the 2025 season.

— With files from Alexander Quon.

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