Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bay Ferries Announces End to Cat Ferry Service

Bay Ferries Limited today announced that it will end its high-speed CAT ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine.

The change takes effect in the spring of 2010 meaning there will be no ferry service this coming year and the end of the service also means that approximately 120 people will lose full or part-time employment.

The decision will no doubt have a disastrous impact on tourism in the coming season, not only in Yarmouth and southwestern Nova Scotia, but it will reduce the number of travellers entering the province through this gateway.

The news of the ferry service cancellation comes just a couple of weeks after air service offered by Starlink was suspended at the Yarmouth airport so this is the second loss of an important transportation link in a very short time.

Bay Ferries says the financial viability of the service has been impacted by reduced passenger traffic due to a series of factors including new US passport rules, a strong Canadian dollar and the weak economy in key U.S. markets.

Mark MacDonald, President and Chief Executive Officer of Bay Ferries Limited, communicated the news to affected employees at a staff meeting in Yarmouth this morning. Separate meetings were held in Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine.

"This was an extremely difficult decision to make, particularly given there has been some form of ferry service out of Yarmouth since the 1800s," said MacDonald. "Although Bay Ferries recognizes this is a sad day for our workers and the communities we serve in southwestern Nova Scotia and Maine, our company is not in a position to absorb the significant financial loss we would experience in the absence of government support.”

Yarmouth County’s two MLAs will held a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday morning the discuss the situation.

“This is disastrous,” Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont told The Vanguard Friday morning after placing a call to the newsroom. He said he had heard that Bay Ferries had been in negotiations for six months with the provincial government and that the company was seeking a minimum of $7 million in government assistance to help keep the service operating.

In the past, the provincial government has invested millions of dollars in the service.

“The provincial government said no, they would not be a partner in it this year,” d’Entremont said.

The ferry operated seasonally from late-May to October each year. MacDonald said the company had successfully operated the service for nine years without government support. But the service has not been viable without government support for the past several years.

“First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to our employees for their tireless efforts to provide safe and reliable transportation between Nova Scotia and Maine,” added MacDonald. “I am sorry to be sharing this news just before the Christmas holidays, but I felt it was the right thing to do to communicate promptly with our employees once we had a clear picture of what support was available for 2010."

More than 76,000 people travelled on the high-speed service in 2009, a 10 per cent drop over 2008 figures when 85,000 people used the service. In stronger market conditions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, annual volumes ranged from 100,000-150,000. More than 1.5 million people have travelled with Bay Ferries between Yarmouth and Maine since 1997.

This isn't the first time Yarmouth has been devastated by news that it was losing an important ferry link. In 2005, just a few weeks before the tourism season was set to begin, Scotia Prince Cruises abruptly announced that it was cancelling its 2005 sailing season. It said the decision was based on unacceptable conditions at the City of Portland's International Marine Terminal.

At the time all eyes, and hopes, turned to Bay Ferries to see whether that operator of the Cat could step in and operate a Yarmouth to Portland run, in addition to its Yarmouth to Bar Harbor service.

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