The Department of Transportation and Works has taken the Strait of Belle Isle ferry out of service due to extreme ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the strait.

The department said the Sir Robert Bond would remain tied up in Blanc Sablon, Que. until the Canadian Coast Guard can provide an icebreaker escort.

Relentless winter weather and freezing temperatures have caused heavy pack ice in the strait and around Newfoundland and Labrador's coastlines, often stranding travellers. 

Yvonne Jones, federal Liberal MP for Labrador, says there should be a second heavy-duty icebreaker on the gulf to deal with the exceptional ice levels this year, but the Coast Guard's Louis St. Laurent has been out of commission.

According to Jones, the federal government said the vessel as been out for a refit, but she believes there are other motivations.


Extreme ice conditions have forced an interruption in service for the MV Sir Robert Bond in the Strait of Belle Isle. (CBC)

"I think it's all part and parcel of the government's cuts in Coast Guard over the years, reduction in their operating costs, which is really unfortunate," she said.

"The Louis St. Laurent today should be one of the main vessels that we have operating in the gulf."

Jones said a subsidy from the provincial government will ensure goods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, continue to be shipped to Labrador, but individuals will be footing a big bill if not travelling by air between Labrador and Newfoundland.

She said more larger vessels, like the Louis St. Laurent and Terry Fox, are needed to deal with the conditions surrounding the province.

"When you get an ore carrier coming out of Voisey's Bay and it's built better for ice conditions than the icebreakers that we have in this part of the country, I mean, that's shameful," Jones said.

"I really believe that the federal government needs to start taking seriously the kind of conditions that we have to operate in."

Left in the lurch

The Liberal Opposition said hundreds of people could be left in the lurch by this latest tie-up.

Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair MHA Lisa Dempster said the government must provide air service to Labrador ferry customers.

"I asked the minister why government is refusing to provide air service to people who are subject to ferry disruptions," Dempster said. 

"His only response was that they monitor the situation on a daily basis. The minister [Nick McGrath] did not give an apology to the hundreds who are now stranded by the actions of government."

The Transportation and Works Department said Thursday service will be disrupted for at least a week because ice breaker assistance is needed elsewhere in eastern Canada.