The federal government has found a temporary replacement for the MV Holiday Island ferry on the Northumberland Strait run between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
Transport Canada is expected to buy Norwegian-flagged MV Fanafjord and have it enter service with Northumberland Ferries Ltd. in May 2024. Once the deal is finalized, the 16-year-old ship will supplement the service provided by MV Confederation while a new ferry vessel is built to carry passengers and vehicles between the two provinces.
"My whole career I've always said how vital the two-vessel service was to Wood Islands-Caribou, and for part of this spring, we had no vessel for a couple weeks," Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay said Wednesday after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the news in Charlottetown.
Tourism operators and other businesses in eastern P.E.I. and northern Nova Scotia called for another vessel to be procured after the Confederation broke down in June and a crucial part had to be manufactured in Germany — leaving no boat on the run until the second week of July.
"Purchasing this vessel, with the goal to make sure we have one on the water next spring, provides stability, efficient and reliable service between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia," MacAulay said.
In the long term, the Government of Canada's permanent replacement for the Holiday Island will come from Quebec shipbuilding company Chantier Davie Canada.
MV Confederation, shown in Wood Islands, P.E.I., was out of commission for more than two weeks as the 2023 tourism season began. That left only two ways for people to leave the Island: by driving over the Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick, or by taking a plane. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)
Design work for the new vessel is already underway, with delivery expected as early as 2028.
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King reacted to the news in a written statement, saying in part: "This is a welcomed announcement that will provide stability and consistency for our important transportation link between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia for 2024 and beyond."
A lot of anxiety and economic hardship could have been avoided had the federal government acted with greater urgency sooner. — P.E.I. MLA Darlene Compton
Local MLA Darlene Compton (Belfast-Murray River) was also celebrating the news, noting in a statement: "For too long now, the availability and reliability of the ferry service has been impacted by aging vessels...
"I wish that it hadn't taken years for good ideas like this to take root but I'm glad that they finally have… A lot of anxiety and economic hardship could have been avoided had the federal government acted with greater urgency sooner."
Deal to be finalized soon
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser also spoke at the news conference in Charlottetown, where the federal cabinet has been meeting all week, saying he's heard the calls from across the region from ferry travellers and business owners concerned about this spring's disruptions.
"I grew up in Pictou County and I can tell you the importance of the ferry link between our provinces cannot be overstated," Fraser said.
"This is something that speaks to a culture that's developed over many decades."
An engine fire aboard MV Holiday Island last summer led to an evacuation of passengers and the eventual scrapping of the ferry. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
The MV Holiday Island met a dramatic end in July of 2022. A fire broke out on board while the vessel was nearing port in Wood Islands, and passengers had to be evacuated from the vessel.
In August, Northumberland Ferries was able to lease the Quebec ferry MV Saaremaa for what was left of the prime tourism season, and the Holiday Island went to the scrapyard.
The deal to buy the new interim replacement vessel, MV Fanafjord, should be finalized in roughly two weeks.
Through the Advance Contract Award Notice, published by Public Services and Procurement Canada, other interested boat suppliers that meet Transport Canada's minimum operational requirements have 15 days to submit a statement of capabilities.
The ACAN is a public signal giving other suppliers notice that the purchase is happening, and offers a time period to essentially counteroffer, but it's not a "competitive process," as pointed out in the ACAN notice.