Protesters block Blanc Sablon ferry over limited capacity, safety

A group of protesters blocked the loading ramp to the MV Astron in Blanc Sablon on Monday, saying the cargo vessel is not a suitable replacement for their regular ferry.
Protesters parked their vehicles across the ramp in Blanc Sablon Monday to prevent the MV Astron from loading. (Facebook)

A number of people gathered at the ferry dock in Blanc Sablon on Monday to protest the use of the MV Astron to service the Labrador Straits ferry route to St. Barbe. 

Neal Pike, one of the organizers of the protest, said 15 to 20 people parked their vehicles across the dock's ramp to prevent the Astron from loading. 

The Astron will service the run for two weeks while the Apollo is being refitted and inspected. 

However the cargo vessel can carry fewer vehicles and only a dozen passengers, compared to 240 on the Apollo.

They just put us back 30 years, which is ridiculous- Neal Pike, protest organizer

"The Apollo could take 40 to 50 light vehicles and six tractor trailers. The Astron here now can only take 10 light vehicles, four tractor trailers and she's an open deck, and people are saying it's a safety issue," said Pike.

He said that the changes make it very difficult to use the ferry service and passengers unable to get on the ferry will be flown across the strait after loading their vehicle onto the ship.

"This ferry here supplies all of Labrador, you're talking about 35,000 people that can't even get in or out," Pike said.

"They just put us back 30 years, which is ridiculous."

The MV Astron can hold 228 fewer passengers than the MV Apollo, the ship it is temporarily replacing. (Submitted by Dean Porter)

Pike expects that some passengers may now have to wait up to a week to take the ferry, even with a reservation. He also said there were better suited vessels that could have been used while the Apollo is being refitted, but those plans were scrapped. 

He said the protesters would remain at the dock until government addressed their concerns.

But, later Monday morning, Labrador Marine issued an update that protesters had cleared the dock and that the Astron was scheduled to depart at 11:30 a.m. Atlantic time. 

Still plenty of space 

Dave Leyden, operations manager with Labrador Marine, said the ferry cannot load while protesters are blocking the ramp.

He said there is still plenty of space and that reservations have not been booked to capacity for passenger traffic on a number of crossings. He said some sailings in the next two weeks have no passengers booked at all. 

Leyden said the situation is not ideal. An alternate ferry was arranged but the deal fell through, and he said not just any ferry can properly dock at Blanc Sablon or St. Barbe. 

"Part of it has got to do with shore infrastructure. The ramps have got to match up. It's no good to have a ship that can simply go back and forth, you've got to be able to dock and load and offload properly," he said. 


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