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The Princess of Acadia is expected to operate until March of 2014. (CBC)

The Princess of Acadia ferry is sailing to a dry dock in Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday for repairs and maintenance.

The 42-year-old vessel, which links Saint John, N.B., to Digby, N.S., has been out of service since Monday with a damaged bow thruster.

No dry docks were available in Atlantic Canada until the middle of February, said Don Cormier, vice-president of operation and safety management for Bay Ferries.

"Because of the problem that we're having with the bow thruster, we felt it was best for everyone to get the ship to dry dock as early as possible after we went through this Christmas rush," he said.

The ferry will also undergo a routine bi-annual inspection, said Cormier.

Service is expected to resume on Feb. 10, he said.

Plans to replace ferry

Meanwhile, Saint John MP Rodney Weston says the government is weighing options on the future of the aging ship.

"Transport [Canada] officials tell us that the lifespan of the vessel will take us to March of 2014," when Bay Ferries' contract to operate the ferry ends. "We hope to have an answer before that time," said Weston.

"We see it as a very vital transportation link for Atlantic Canada and we want to see the service maintained," he said.

"Obviously with the vessel entering the end of its lifespan we start to question what the next step is and we're looking at various options."

Weston says that could include replacing the Princess of Acadia with a new or used ferry.

In 2010, the executive director of the Canadian Ferry Operators Association, told CBC News a new ferry of similar size to the Princess of Acadia could cost more than $100 million, while a used one would be about $60 million.

The service had been in financial jeopardy that year, but the federal government provided a three-year lifeline to keep the service afloat.

Maritime mayors and local economic development groups had lobbied for help, calling it a vital link between the two provinces.