Ferry crossings between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will be cancelled again Monday as officials grapple with the aftermath of a fire aboard the MV Holiday Island.
The fourth day of cancellations during a period of peak demand comes as a blow to the region’s tourism industry as it continues to recover from pandemic shutdowns.
Yet it also shines a light on the ability for Maritimers to come together in difficult times, with even the chief executive of the ferry company opening his door to stranded passengers.
The cause of the blaze, which broke out in the engine room of the MV Holiday Island, remains unknown.
“We believe it was from the forward main engine but will take some time before we are able to enter that space,” Don Cormier, vice-president of Northumberland Ferries, said during a media briefing Sunday.
“We want to make sure that there’s no chance of reignition of the fire.”
The MV Holiday Island crosses the Northumberland Strait between Caribou, N.S., and Wood Islands, PEI The vessel was built in the 1970s and is nearly 98 metres long, according to marine traffic websites. It carries vehicles and passengers.
The vessel is operated by Northumberland Ferries on behalf of Transport Canada and is inspected annually by Lloyd’s Register, said Julie Gascon, director general of marine safety and security with Transport Canada.
It was last inspected on May 11, 2022, she said during the media briefing.
Tug boats towed the ship to berth at Wood Islands Sunday. A containment boom was then set up around the vessel, said Ben MacDonald, deputy superintendent of environmental response with the Coast Guard.
“At this time, there has not been any pollution observed,” he said during the briefing, adding that the ship is being monitored closely for any potential environmental concerns.
Prince Edward Islanders rallied together over the weekend to help passengers left stranded after the blaze prompted an emergency evacuation from the ferry Friday as it neared Wood Islands.
About 230 passengers left the ship using an inflatable slide and were ferried ashore by seafarers that responded to the mayday call, including fishing boats, rescue crafts and even a yacht.
The emergency left holiday-goers without a vehicle or in many cases a place to stay in peak tourism season.
“We had a lot of offers for people to house passengers in their actual homes,” Cormier said, noting that even retired workers pitched in to help customers.
“Islanders pledged their support and showed up on site to assist.”
While the company managed to find commercial accommodations for most customers, he said the head of Northumberland Ferries hosted some families on Friday night.
“This is one of the busiest weeks of the year in tourism in P.E.I,” said Mark MacDonald, chairman and CEO of Northumberland Ferries.
“We marshaled a team of people to look after our customers who were displaced by the accident ... but it was clear that there were a few people who weren’t looked after and I was worried about them.”
So the head of the ferry company did what he says any Islander would do: He opened his door.
“I said, ‘My wife and I would be happy to take them ourselves’, so we had a group of eight people – five adults and three little babies – stay with us.”
Once word got out in the community, MacDonald said neighbours started dropping off food and offering to help.
“It’s just a small thing that we were very happy to do in the circumstances, in such a difficult situation.”
Meanwhile, by Sunday the ship was towed to berth at Wood Islands, PEI, where vehicles could be unloaded.
There was no obvious damage to vehicles, Cormier said.
Northumberland Ferries hopes to resume service between the Maritime provinces Tuesday.
The schedule usually includes the MV Holiday Island and the MV Confederation both performing four round trips each between Caribou and Wood Islands, he said.
It’s unclear what the new schedule will be with the MV Holiday Island out of commission.
However, Cormier said during a significant service disruption in 2016, the MV Confederation was able to accommodate 85 per cent of the traditional traffic.
While the MV Confederation operates for the entire sailing season, he said the MV Holiday Island is primarily used in the peak season.
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