First the ferry, then the plane: Stranded travellers face another setback in eastern Quebec

With a ferry linking towns in the region out of service, Transport Minister François Bonnardel announced additional flights to carry travellers across the St. Lawrence River - but the plane in question also broke down on Friday.

F.-A.-Gauthier ferry out of service until further notice, costing the province $10K a day for flights

The STQ has chartered this Air Creebec Dash-8 to replace its ferry service until Jan. 8, 2019. (Marie-Jeanne Dubreuil/Radio-Canada)

The chartered aircraft that was supposed to carry stranded travellers across the St. Lawrence River in eastern Quebec was grounded on Friday due to a mechanical problem.

With a ferry linking towns in the region out of service, Transport Minister François Bonnardel announced additional flights to carry travellers across the St. Lawrence River.

But, travellers had to wait it out, after the Dash-8 that was supposed to make the trip had to be fixed. Service resumed for the last trip out of Mont-Joli on Friday evening. 

Flights are being offered to passengers who were planning to cross on the ferry until Jan. 8 — when the C.T.M.A. Vacancier ferry, one of two ferries that services the Magdalen Islands, is brought in.

As of Saturday, people who travel from Matane to Baie-Comeau or Godbout, on the North Shore, will be able to take a flight from Mont-Joli to the Baie-Comeau airport, four times a day, until Dec. 24. A fifth flight, in the evening, will provide connection to the Sept-Îles airport.

There will be no service on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, since the ferry wasn't in operation on those days.

Cars disembark from the F.-A.-Gauthier ferry in Godbout, Que.. in this archival photo. (Marc-Antoine Mongeau/Radio-Canada)

The STQ's director of operations Greta Bédard said there are 50 seats available on each flight.

If there is more demand, the STQ will consider adding on departures.

Tickets will cost $20, the same cost as a passage on the NM F.-A.-Gauthier.

The province will cover the rest of the cost, roughly $10,000 per day.

Also, the ferry that links Saint-Siméon to Rivière-du-Loup will be offering one extra crossing per day to allow motorists to cross with their vehicles — an added 450-kilometre trip for people who would normally be going between Matane and Baie-Comeau.

No other options

The NM F.-A.-Gauthier ferry is offline for repairs indefinitely, just three years after being added to the fleet of the provincial ferry service, Société des traversiers (STQ).

The minister said his team contacted the federal government to secure another ferry for the holidays, but there weren't any available.

Bonnardel said taking the plane will not be a suitable option for many travellers who take their cars across the river to visit family during the holidays.

For Jacques Morin, who works in Causapscal, in the Gaspé, but lives in Baie-Comeau, it's been "a bit of a puzzle" all week to figure out how he'd get home for Christmas.

"In the end I decided to take the plane, it was OK," Morin said as he got off his flight Friday morning in Baie-Comeau.

Raynald Desrosiers was considering driving all the way around the St. Lawrence, through Quebec City, to make it home on the North Shore. 

Having the option of jumping on the plane made him reconsider.

"I travel for work all year, I'm used to having these problems," said Desrosiers.

Long-term solutions

The F.-A.-Gauthier has been docked since Monday.

The STQ said it could not predict when the ferry would be repaired, after an anomaly in the ship's propellers was detected during a scheduled maintenance.

"We have to investigate because we have to know what's going on with these thrusters," said Bédard. 

The F.-A.-Gauthier will be docked until at least Friday. (William Bastille-Denis/Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, Bonnardel said "it was inconceivable" that the STQ does not have another ferry that can be called in for this kind of situation.

"I will make sure to look into this in the new year," said Bonnardel, adding that the previous government had explored the possibility of acquiring another ferry but never went through with the idea.

The NM F.-A.-Gauthier ferry, a $220-million ship built in Italy, has broken down, multiple times since it was christened in 2015, the first in North America to run on liquefied natural gas. 

Mayors of cities affected by the service shortage sent a letter to Bonnardel asking him to find a permanent solution to prevent these kinds of situations, reminding him that 5.2 million passengers board STQ ferries every year and that it is an essential service.

Flight schedules until Dec. 24

Departures from Mont-Joli: 8:30 / 10:30 /12:30 / 14:30
Departures from Baie-Comeau: 9:30 / 11:30 / 13:30 / 15:30 

With files from Radio-Canada


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