By Tina Comeau
One of the two companies that have submitted a ferry proposal to the Nova Scotia government says on its website that it has secured a long-term charter agreement on a new $165-million cruise ferry to be christened the Nova Star.
Quest Navigation also says on its website that should it be the successful proponent it believes it is possible to launch a ferry service in time to meet the 2013 tourism season.
But aside from its own website, little else seems to be known about Quest Navigation of Maine, which responded to the government’s ferry RFP (request for proposals).
A Quest Navigation spokesperson contacted this newspaper to share a link to a website that includes information about the company’s desire to establish a ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.
“Quest Navigation is a start-up company. However, over the last two years we have been developing our business plan, courting investors and assembling our executive team for management and operations,” says Lisa Arnold, who refers to herself as a principal at Quest Navigation. “We've spent a great deal of time researching and analyzing the market and we've built marketing strategic partnerships in order to execute our plan quickly.”
When the ferry RFP closed on Jan. 24, the government said proposals had been received from Quest Navigation and Maritime Applied Physics Corporation (MAPC) of Baltimore. Searches conducted online by this newspaper when the RFP closed revealed little information about the companies – we couldn’t find anything sunstantial at the time about Quest Navigation, and what we found about MAPC revealed the company has a 25-year history in the engineering, prototyping and production of emerging technology systems, such as hydrofoils. There is no mention of ferry operations on the company’s website.
The NDP government has committed up to $21 million over seven years for a viable ferry service, providing it meets set criteria.
“We are waiting to hear the outcome of the province’s review of our proposal and until that time we will not be commenting on its details,” said Arnold. “However, I encourage you to visit www.QuestNav.com for additional information on our company and proposal. We hope to be in a position to provide you with more information in the coming weeks.”
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On its website Quest Navigation says its vision is to establish a sustainable, year-round passenger ferry operation to serve tourists and also to meet the needs of the commercial vehicle and cargo market. The 161-metre-long ship it says it would use on the ferry run has 162 cabins, four bar areas, two restaurants, a retail store, multiple movie-viewing areas, a casino and an outdoor sundeck and lounge for live entertainment. The company says the ferry could carry 1,215 passengers.
A former captain of the MV Bluenose told the Vanguard that he was contacted a while back by a representative of Quest Navigation, asking about the size of the vessel they were looking at and whether it would be able to manoeuvre in Yarmouth harbour's channel. He was told the ship they were looking at for the ferry run was built in Singapore.
A panel appointed by the provincial government to study the Yarmouth ferry issue concluded that a cruise-type experience service would be the preferred type of service. An in-depth report analyzing the pros and cons of re-establishing a Yarmouth-to-U.S. ferry service that was released on Sept. 7 says the business case issues of a ferry service are tangible, yet also fraught with uncertainties. Of the options it looked at, it stated that exist for a ferry service, a cruise-style service, coupled with an aggressive tourism marketing strategy, would be the approach to take.
An on-board cruise-type experience ferry is what Quest Navigation is proposing.
Reads the company’s website: “Quest Navigation has contracted Maritime Holdings Group (MHG) of Hollywood, Florida, to manage the crewing and hotel operations on Nova Star. Since 1992, this ISM-certified management group has established a proven record for managing the safe, reliable and efficient operation of 12 cruise and ferry vessels around the world.”
The website says MHG currently operates four passenger ships: Pinar Del Rio and Maverick, two high-speed ferries operating between south Florida and the Bahamas, Ola Esmeralda, a 500-passenger cruise vessel in the Caribbean and Ocean Dream, a 1,200-passenger cruise vessel, which sails on three 100-day, round-the-world cruises each year from Yokohama, Japan.
Listed as the president and chief executive officer of Quest Navigation Inc. is Mark Amundsen. The website says he has 30 years of experience in operations, business development, technical management and engineering in the international shipping industry. It also says that at Irving Shipbuilding he was the director of ship repair at Halifax Shipyard Ltd. and Shelburne Ship Repair.
“Mark has spent a lot of time in Halifax, Liverpool and Shelburne, commuting back and forth from the United States for three years,” Arnold told the Vanguard. “That's what initially got him thinking about the ferry service, or lack thereof.”
When the ferry RFP closed, the government said a committee would spend about a month evaluating the ferry proposals. Tina Thibeau, a spokesperson for the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, says that evaluation is underway.
It has been stated that major renovations and repairs to the ferry terminal on Water Street – in fact a new ferry terminal – is needed for a ferry service.
When the ferry RFP closed, many were surprised by the absence of more familiar names among the companies that had submitted a proposal.
The Vanguard contacted one company that had been mentioned during ferry discussions in the past, this being British company P&O Ferries, to ask if it was connected with either of the proposals that have been submitted. Said company spokesperson Brian Rees, “No we're not connected to either of those companies. We've decided not to submit a proposal. It isn't that we don't see potential for the service, more that we need to focus on our core business on this side of the pond at the moment.”
Calls to Bay Ferries were not returned.
Keith Condon, the chair of the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership has said in the past that if the proposals submitted in the RFP are not considered suitable than other companies can still be spoken with. He said he felt the RFP timeframe – aimed at determining if proposals met the criteria for start-up funding, was too short.