Eastern P.E.I. relieved but guarded about future of ferry service | CBC News

People in eastern P.E.I. are relieved to hear a new ferry is on the way.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced plans to buy a 16-year-old Norwegian ferry, MV Fanafjord, as an interim replacement on the route between Wood Islands and Caribou, N.S.

But some Islanders say the government needs to do more to support reliable ferry service.

Blair Aitken, the president of the Eastern P.E.I. Chamber of Commerce, would like to see a longer-term solution to the aging infrastructure.

He said the Fanafjord is nothing new.

“This is the same ferry recommendation that we made as a board and chamber six year ago,” Aitken said. “This is the same ferry, rather, that was brought to the attention of government when the MV Holiday Island burned.”

Blair Aitken, president of the Eastern P.E.I. Chamber of Commerce.
Blair Aitken, president of the Eastern P.E.I. Chamber of Commerce, says they’re pleased with the news but thinks more could be done. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Even with a new ferry arriving, Aitken says the quality of service, frequency and dependability is still in question.

The Fanafjord will take over for MV Saaremaa 1, the leased vessel that temporarily replaced MV Holiday Island after it caught fire last year. The Saaremaa returned to service in P.E.I. for the summer.

Tourism operators and other businesses in eastern P.E.I. and northern Nova Scotia called for another vessel to be procured after MV Confederation, Northumberland Ferries’ only permanent vessel, broke down in June.

A crucial part had to be manufactured in Germany to repair the Confederation, leaving no boat operating on the route until the second week of July. 

A year of uncertainty

Katherine Bryson, councillor for the Rural Municipality of Belfast, said there was a big sigh of relief when the Fanafjord purchase was announced. 

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Local councillor Katherine Bryson says there was a big sigh of relief when the federal government announced the ferry purchase. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

“We’ve been fighting really hard. Obviously, the municipality has been making a lot of contacts this summer trying to get this to happen and thankfully we’ve received everything we’ve asked for, so we couldn’t be happier,” Bryson said. 

“New to us is great. I love second-hand, anything we can get. This season has just been so unpredictable…. Our industries here have gone through four years of uncertainty and to follow up with one more has just been awful.”

New to us is great. I love second-hand, anything we can get.– Katherine Bryson, Rural Municipality of Belfast councillor

Trish Carter, another councillor for the rural municipality, also runs Galla Designs Studio in Wood Islands.

Carter said it’s been a difficult season for her business, particularly when there was only one ferry running. 

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Trish Carter says the gaps in ferry service this summer had businesses on edge. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

“There’s no traffic on the Trans-Canada. It was dead. No one was driving by and it was just very unsettling,” she said. “We had no idea what to expect…. It was a sense of uncertainty and worry for everyone involved in this area.”

While Carter said things eventually picked up, the business has not fully rebounded. 

“I think a lot of people redirected their vacations because they didn’t know whether or not it was worth coming here and to add on the gas prices as well. So it’s not been a great year.”

‘We want it to be green’

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MLA Darlene Compton says she would like to see the new ferry use green technology. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Darlene Compton, MLA for Belfast-Murray River, is concerned about how the new ferry will be powered. 

The boat currently runs on liquefied natural gas and electricity, but Northumberland Ferries said it will be converted to a diesel-electric hybrid.

“With the Fanafjord that’s coming, we want it to be green. We want it to be as advanced as it can be. We’re the net-zero province,” Compton said.

“Why are we not putting in the most advanced technology?”

A ferry in a wharf.
Some people in eastern P.E.I. are concerned about how long the MV Confederation ferry will last. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Compton said she’s cautiously optimistic about the future of the ferry service.

“I still feel that we’re not there yet,” she said. “I’d like to hear more of what the answers are and why this ferry was chosen now and not seven years ago, when we really could have used it.”

In an email statement to CBC P.E.I., Northumberland Ferries senior vice-president Mark Wilson said the company is very supportive of the government’s commitment to “provide an effective solution for two-ship ferry service” between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia.

“The vessel will be a great addition to the route,” Wilson said.”We are confident it will complement the MV Confederation.”

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