Nova Star sailing in. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
Although Nova Star can accommodate 1,215 passengers, even the company doubts it’ll ever carry this many people on any crossing. Therefore, it says, this shouldn’t be the figure used to judge capacity.
Recent media reports point out that by only having carried approximately 7,000 passengers in June, the vessel had only reached 10 per cent of its capacity.
“That’s calculated on our certified capacity of 1,200,” said company spokesperson Dennis Bailey. “It’s doubtful we’ll ever have 1,200 people on a voyage. We consider our maximum capacity for comfort to be 711.”
While the company isn’t reaching this benchmark either, it is getting closer, he said.
“We are hitting our targets for July. Some of our cruises will have in excess of 500 people and more than 100 cars,” he said last week. “We are half way into July and are at about 50 per cent of our target, so we feel confident our numbers will continue to rise.”
Company officials continue to say it is going to take time to build this route, given the hiatus of ferry service since 2009.
“People need to be patient,” Bailey said. “Our numbers are improving and will continue to do so as more people hear about the service and the great experience we are offering.”
But people wonder, can patience pay the bills and cover expenses?
As of this past week Nova Star Cruises had 11,000 bookings for July. This figure is still going up as people tend to only book their trip a week or less out from their departure date.
People have complained about the cost of fares. Nova Star has offered many discounts during this first season. Bailey draws a comparison to Scotia Prince, which last sailed this route 10 years ago.
“We’d like to point out that in 2004 for the Scotia Prince, a round trip for a family of four (two kids over age 5), with a cabin one way, and a car would cost $761, which, adding inflation, would be $926 today. For Nova Star, same situation, the cost would be $963, a difference of just $37,” he said, adding factors that need to be taken into account include the huge increase in the cost of diesel fuel from a decade ago and the fact Nova Star is a newer and bigger ship.
Nova Star Cruises has had to access much of the up-to $21 million the province had committed to the service for the first seven years – $19 million has already been advanced. Most recently $5 million of that was to address a line of credit the company has not yet been able to access. The State of Maine hasn’t contributed financially to the service. It said prior to the service it would assist the company in securing a $5 million line of credit. Now there is talk of trying to secure an investor.
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Under U.S. Maritime Law, even if people book and pay for a trip, Nova Star can’t access that money until after the trip has concluded.
“We are continuing to work with the State of Maine regarding financial options,” Bailey said. “Everything is on the table, but nothing concluded as yet.”
Nova Star is slated to sail until Nov. 2, which is a longer shoulder season than when the Cat and Scotia Prince sailed to Portland. If passenger loads in the spring shoulder season were not high, can they be expected to be in a lengthy fall shoulder season? Has the company considered adjusting the season?
“Our plan is still to run to Nov. 2,” Bailey said. “We are also building our commercial trucking business. So even if passenger numbers drop off at the end of the season, we anticipate more trucks will utilize the cruise ferry and will be an important source of revenue.”
Nova Star Cruises is continuing discussions regarding a route for the vessel during the off-season but there has been no decision yet.
Meanwhile, when it comes to passenger loads, equally important, Bailey said, is the experience people are having onboard.
“We are especially pleased with the reaction and response we’ve received from people who have traveled on Nova Star. The reviews from passengers have been very positive,” he said. “As more people hear about us, and hear from their friends about the great experience they’ve had aboard Nova Star, we are very confident our numbers will improve.”
Despite marketing efforts of the service, everyone is still not aware that a ferry is running again. But they are finding out it through a variety of sources, says Bailey.
"We received a note the other day from a guy in Massachusetts who was watching the Weather Channel during Hurricane Arthur and heard we had cancelled the trip out of Portland," Bailey said. "He was a big fan of the Scotia Prince but didn’t realize the service had returned. He said he went to the website and immediately booked a trip."
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