The Nova Star.
By Tina Comeau
The province said it would have an answer early this week to a request put to it by the company planning to re-establish ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland this spring.
Nova Star Cruises has turned to the province for assistance with an issue that has prevented the company from being able to advertise its fares or start taking reservations.
At issue is the fact that the United States Federal Maritime Commission is requiring that the ferry company prove it can refund customer tickets for cancelled crossings. For this the company needs to provide money that can be held in a reserve.
Given that there is just over two months until the time the company says it will be launching the service – it continues to say it is on target for a May 1 startup – the issue needs to be resolved. The commission says until it is Nova Star Cruises cannot advertise rates on its website or take reservations. The commission even requested that the company disable its Facebook page.
Nova Scotia’s minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, Michel Samson, tells the Yarmouth Vanguard that the company has asked the province for $2 million to satisfy the American requirement.
“We are looking at this right now within the envelop of the money previously approved,” said Samson, referring to the up to $21 million the government has allotted to the service.
He said this funding request would not be an expenditure unless something happens.
“Basically the monies end up in reserve,” he said. “The money is tied up but it’s not an actually expenditure of money unless there’s an issue with ticket sales and tickets have to be reimbursed from this fund.”
Samson said this requirement was news to the government, and, he said, to the company.
It was not something that was accounted for in the original business plan.
“The government of Nova Scotia is not in the business of running ferries so we had no means of knowing this. When we found out it was as much of a surprise to us as anyone else,” Samson said. He doesn’t fault the company for not being aware of the requirement in advance.
“When you’re looking at setting up a ferry service in two different countries you are going to come up against some hiccups along the way. We’re doing our best, and as quickly as possible, to work with the company within the envelop of money that’s been approved to address some of these concerns,” he said. Asked if he is concerned a May 1 start-up date seems rushed now, Samson said, “The company is telling us that it still plans to have that service in place for May 1. We have no reason to believe that is not going to happen.”
In a media release last week, Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d’Entremont suggested the minister has some explaining to do.
“The minister must provide clarity, is the May 1 start date in jeopardy?” d’Entremont asked. “We are just weeks from the start of the spring tourism season and tourists can’t even find out the fare.”
D’Entremont said if the province takes on the responsibility of the refund, Nova Scotians deserve to know if that money will be in addition to the committed investment.
Samson has said the government will let Nova Scotians know what is decided.
“We want to see this be a success,” he said about the service. “We’ve committed to being accountable to Nova Scotians when it comes to spending their tax dollars and the when we finalize this most recent request we will make it public.”
Samson suggested that raising doubts about the ferry service could be harmful as it could scare off potential passengers.