Supporters of the Digby Ferry services are now searching for a replacement for the aging Princess of Acadia. ((CBC))

The federal government recently threw the Digby Ferry service a three-year lifeline, giving supporters some time to begin a search for a replacement for the Princess of Acadia.

The federal government came up with a funding package to save three Maritime ferries in late November, which included cash to help the Digby Ferry for the next three years.

The Digby Ferry service has been championed by Maritime mayors and local economic development groups as a vital link between the two provinces. But the ferry service has run into financial troubles in recent years and has required repeated infusions of public money.

Any permanent solution is thought to require a new, or at least newer, vessel to keep the service that connects southern New Brunswick to southwestern Nova Scotia alive.

The crossing is now done on the Princess of Acadia, a vessel that is 40 years old and is approaching the end of its life.

Anthonie de Hoog, the executive director of the Canadian Ferry Operators Association, said a new ferry of similar size to the Princess of Acadia will be very expensive.

"It could be $100 million. It could be more than $100 million," de Hoog said.

Ferries can be very costly investments as New Brunswick taxpayers have recently discovered.

Last year, the New Brunswick government commissioned a new ferry for the Grand Manan service, which will cost taxpayers $65 million.

But the Grand Manan Adventure, as the ferry will be named, is only half the size of the Princess of Acadia.

Used ferries can also be expensive

There is always the option of trying to find a used ferry that is not being operated to service the New Brunswick to Nova Scotia link.

De Hoog said an international search could be conducted to find such a vessel if that was the chosen route.

"There's brokers in Canada, brokers in England, brokers in continental Europe, Scandinavia. You would essentially contact brokers to see if they had in their portfolios ships of that certain dimension," de Hoog said.

But even that option would also have its own share of complications.

De Hoog said a used vessel would likely have to be refitted for the Bay of Fundy crossing.

There has been discussion about whether the MV Caribou, which recently retired from the Newfoundland crossing, could replace the Princess of Acadia.

However, that vessel is twice the size and considerably more expensive to operate than the Princess of Acadia.

Other used candidates could run to $60 million on the world market.