A tugboat helps with a bow thruster issue with the Princess of Acadia. JONATHAN RILEY PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
An official with Bay Ferries says there isn’t much the company can do to avoid cancellations due to inclement weather in the winter, but the company has been doing what it can to ensure that a problem the Princess of Acadia is experiencing with a bow thruster does not lead to more cancelled crossings.
The lobster industry has raised concerns over the impact cancelled crossings have at this crucial time of the year for getting products to market.
The bow thruster issue the ferry – which sails between Digby and Saint John – has been experiencing is not a safety concern, says Don Cormier, the vice-president of operations and safety management for Bay Ferries. But it does make docking the ferry and manoeuvering the bow sideways difficult.
“As an interim measure we have a small tug positioned in Digby, we have harbour tugs available in Saint John and if needed we can dispatch a larger tug from Saint John to be a surrogate for the bow thruster,” Cormier said on Dec. 20, as the company waited for the materials needed to fix the problem. “But we’re still able to do our crossings.”
A day earlier the Bay of Fundy Marine Transportation Association issued a media release saying it was concerned over the impact recent cancelled ferry crossings due to mechanical issues and the weather was having on the lobster industry during the peak shipping season for markets.
Cormier says they take these concerns very seriously.
“We are absolutely very cognizant of the importance of the Princess of Acadia for commercial customers, certainly the fisheries,” said Cormier, adding they know the forestry industry and the public also rely heavily on this public transportation system.
The marine transportation association has issued a call for a newer vessel to replace the Princess of Acadia to cut down, it says, the likelihood of cancelled crossings due to weather or mechanical issues.
Asked for Bay Ferries’ opinion on whether a replacement vessel is required, Cormier said, “My comment on that is the Acadia is safe and sound. As an operator it’s our job to operate the vessel and we wouldn’t do so unless she were safe. The whole issue of replacement is one I don’t want to comment on.”
Given that the Princess of Acadia service operates over the winter, there are no guarantees crossings won’t get cancelled due to weather. For instance a recent cancellation due to weather would have occurred with or without the bow thruster issue, said Cormier.
And he said Bay Ferries is keeping its eye on forecasted winds of 50 knots or more in the coming days.
Asked whether Bay Ferries can give its customers a heads up if there are going to be service cancellations, Cormier said it depends on the circumstances. If it’s a certainty that the weather is continuing on its predicted path then users can be alerted to a potential service disruption.
But forecasts also change, he said.
“We also don’t want customers to expect a cancellation and the ship sails, so there is that balance,” he said, with the ultimate decision being left with the captain.
As for what concerns may arise with inclement weather that could lead to cancellations, Cormier said there are a variety of issues.
“It may be sea states in some cases. It may be not being able to actually safely load or unload the vessel because of wave action at the dock. It may be that having the vessel docked, because of wave action or wind damage it could damage shore infrastructure and take things out of service or even potentially damage the ship,” he said. “You could categorize any of those as safety reasons. The captain makes a judgment assessment that is in the best interest of our customers and the communities that we serve.”