Ferry breakdown leaves Brier Island without service for 16 hours

Islanders ask for better communication from department

Published on January 9, 2014

With two ferries broke down with mechanical issues and one away in dry dock, the Department of Transportation had to suspend service to Brier Island for 16 hours on Saturday, Jan. 4.

Riley/ FILE

By Jonathan Riley

The municipal councillor for Long and Brier Islands wants better communication between the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and the residents of the Islands when it comes to ferry breakdowns.

David Tudor says the department regularly issues public statements when roads and highways are closed and he’d like the same information when the ferries break down.

“People have been calling me and I’ve been reading their comments on Facebook,” said Tudor on Sunday, Jan. 5 after a 16-hour interruption in ferry service to Brier Island the day before. “They just want to know what’s going on? Is it going to be four hours or 24 hours?”

Several people on the Islands had flights to catch in Halifax and weren’t sure if or when they would be getting off the Islands.

“People had appointments, people had important errands to run in Digby,” said Tudor. “That’s our road and if your road isn’t working then the ambulance won’t be getting through.”

The captains took both Island ferries out of service sporadically on Friday, Jan. 3 during the blizzard.

“We understand that and that’s the right decision,” said Tudor “There’s no sense beating and battering your equipment in a storm.”

However the Petit Princess ferry, which operates in Petit Passage between East Ferry on the mainland and Tiverton on Long Island, developed mechanical problems at 4:30 p.m. Friday evening.

The department assembled an extra ferry crew and they went to Westport to put the Spray, one of two spare ferries, into service for about 11 p.m. that night.

The other spare, the Scotian, is away in dry dock.

At the same time the Joe Casey, which normally operates in Grand Passage between Freeport and Westport, left for Tiverton to replace the Petit Princess.

The Joe Casey arrived in Tiverton and resumed that ferry service for 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 4.

The Spray, meanwhile, only made one run to Freeport before crews noticed a problem with one of her ramps and they took her out of service about 11 p.m. Friday.

She did manage one run about mid-day Saturday but full service wasn’t restored until about 3 p.m. Saturday.

John Majchrowicz, manager of Marine Services for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, says it was a highly unusual situation to have two ferries down at the same time while the second spare was away.

“We don’t break down that often out there and when we do, we usually have another ferry to pop right its place right away,” said Majchrowicz by phone. “I was talking to the guys about this and they can’t remember the last time we had an interruption of service for this long.”

He said the Spray, although not able to carry vehicles because of the ramp, would still have been able to carry passengers in case of an emergency.

The current plan right now when no ferry is available, is for the captain to notify EHS and Majchrowicz notifies the communication department who spreads the word if necessary.

The department made no public announcement of the 16-hour service interruption on Jan. 4 although the lack of service was reported on Nova Scotia 511—the government website listing road and ferry closures.

(http://511.gov.ns.ca/ or m511.gov.ns.ca on your phone).

Majchrowicz and Tudor spoke on Thursday, Jan. 9 about a plan for future prolonged interruptions.

Majchrowicz says he would like to sit down with Tudor, EHS and the Coast Guard soon and talk about a plan to handled emergencies.

“Just so everyone feels safe,” says Majchrowicz. “Our main goal is to provide a safe operation for passengers and crew.”

Majchrowicz says the department has been showering the Island ferries with “tender loving care” since he moved into the job of manager a year and a half ago.

“I heard about all these problems and concerns, and I have been working to change all of that,” he said. “I pull the ships out when I can, we’ve done a lot of work on those ships.”

The Petit Princess, built in 2003 is the newest of the ferries he says.

The Petit Princess should be headed for Meteghan Friday morning for repairs and Majchrowicz says if all goes well, it could be back in service sometime Saturday.

Majchrowicz also said the Scotian, still in dry dock for the foreseeable future, will be headed to Englishtown in Cape Breton for a while this spring to replace that ferry which will be going off for inspection and an overhaul.