Fogo Islanders fume as ferry woes continue another day

Travel troubles continued for Fogo Island and Change Islands Monday, as residents demanded a better transportation link.

Beaumont Hamel remains out of service, Earl W. Winsor undergoing refit and inspection

The Captain Earl W. Winsor, which normally handles the Fogo Island ferry run, is more than 40 years old. It is currently in St. John's for a refit and inspections. (CBC)

Travel troubles continued for Fogo Island and Change Islands Monday, as residents demanded a better transportation link.

"This is crazy," Fogo Island resident Wayne Ford told CBC News. "We should have better service than this."

Ford was among those availing of the only current link between Fogo Island and the rest of Newfoundland — fixed-aircraft service to Gander.

The nearby Change Islands are being serviced by helicopter.

Cars were lined up in Farewell on Monday morning waiting for the Fogo Island ferry service to resume. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The Fogo Island and Change Islands ferry route has been out of commission since Saturday afternoon, when the Beaumont Hamel developed mechanical problems.

The Beaumont Hamel is itself a replacement vessel on the run. The usual ship, the Earl W. Winsor, is in St. John's undergoing a refit and required inspections.

"This is a very critical and devastating situation for the island," Fogo Island Mayor Gerard Foley told CBC News.

"Coming here today, one of the big concerns is communication."

Residents complained about a lack of information over the weekend.

Updates on the service line were slow, and ferry workers had no idea when the Beaumont Hamel would be up and running again.

Fergus Foley called the communication situation "absolute chaos and absolute frustration."

He said he was constantly on the phone, all the way from St. John's, and had trouble getting information on the status of the ferry or the replacement plane service.

Impact on tourism season

Town officials are concerned about the impact of the ferry disruption on tourism in the region.

"We’re right into the peak tourism season, and you’ve got a lot of tourists who come here," Fogo Island Coun. Gerald McKenna told CBC’s Radio Noon.

"Of course, there is no better ambassador than a person who has already visited the place, to spread the good word or the bad word. What we’re afraid of now is that there will be a lot of disgruntled visitors, who will go back and say, ‘Look, I wouldn’t advise you to go out there, because look at the ferry service.’"

McKenna said the town’s message to the provincial government is a simple one.

"We’ve been preaching this to them for a long time," he said.

"I think it’s time that they did something. It’s fine to say we have proposals out, proposals in, waiting for the contracts to be awarded. But to build a new vessel, it’s going to take at least two years. But right now, we need a swing vessel, we need a vessel, and we need it ASAP."

Province says it's working on the issue

Transportation Minister Paul Davis said government officials are working on the issue.

Davis told CBC Radio’s Central Morning that work was continuing Monday to fix the Beaumont Hamel.

The Earl W. Winsor — the regular vessel on the Fogo Island and Change Islands route — is expected to be back in service by early July.

"If all goes well, the Winsor's refit will be much shorter than earlier anticipated," Davis said.

Transportation Minister Paul Davis. (CBC)

"We wanted to get the Winsor back in service during the tourism season. We also know that the economy is very, very vibrant and busy in Fogo Island, Change Islands this time of year."

A more extensive refit of the Winsor is planned to take place later in 2013.

According to the Department of Transportation, a request for proposals to permanently replace the Winsor, and add a needed swing vessel to the fleet, closed in early June.

The department said it received 15 responses from shipbuilders. The proposals are currently under review, and an announcement is expected this fall.

In the interim, Davis said, the government has been working to find a short- to medium-term solution for the ferry shortage.

"We were getting a little bit more optimistic in recent weeks," Davis said. "We thought we may have found an opportunity to secure a vessel. But that hasn’t come into fruition, is not going to now."

The previous swing vessel, the Nonia, was decommissioned earlier this year because of spiralling refit costs. It had been scheduled to remain out of service until early 2014.

The loss of the Nonia is "having a significant impact on our operations," Davis said.

He said the government is trying to address the issue on many fronts.

"We’re trying to work to alleviate this the best as we can," he said.