Nfld. & Labrador

'We're staying here all day': Bell Islanders protest ferry swap with Fogo

Residents of Bell Island are protesting the provincial government's planned ferry swap, camping out on the MV Legionnaire's ramp to prevent it from leaving for Fogo.

Province says it's working with protesters upset with the plan to swap out the MV Legionnaire

Early Sunday there were about 20 people gathered on the ramp of the MV Legionnaire, with many more residents coming and going. (CBC)

The province says it's working with Bell Islanders after protesters blocked the ramp of the MV Legionnaire throughout the weekend, to prevent it from leaving for Fogo. 

Wabana town councillor Henry Crane was one of the protesters on site Sunday morning. 

"As the night went on, some of the b'ys and some of the women stayed and kept the protest alive," he said. "And now we're expecting a big crowd here today."

​The Department of Transportation and Works confirmed Friday the Legionnaire will be reassigned from Bell Island to the Fogo–Change Islands run while its ferry, the beleaguered MV Veteran, is out for repairs. A move Bell Islanders are not happy with. 

Bell Island residents are upset the swap will leave them with two ferries — the MV Flanders and the MV Beaumont Hamel — with less capacity than the Legionnaire.

That will mean longer wait times in the morning and evening for those who commute off the island for work.

Progressive Conservative MHA David Brazil represents Bell Island. He stopped by the protest after 10 a.m. on Sunday. 

Brazil said he presented a handful of other scenarios for the Fogo ferry conundrum to the government, but all were ignored. 

In an email to CBC News Sunday, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Works said work is continuing "with the Bell Island ferry users committee and individuals protesting to resolve the issue as quickly as possible to avoid delays for Bell Island commuters and to get the Legionnaire into service."

Meanwhile on the dock, the crowd circled around Brazil and shared its concerns.

"They've got a hospital on Fogo Island that can handle a hell of a lot more than here," one man said. 

"I'm not from Bell Island but I want to call it my home," said a woman who had recently moved there. 

She told Brazil she had trouble finding employment off the island, due to her address being on Bell Island. 

"I've got to know this vessel is going to stay here so I can start applying for jobs in St. John's so I can put food on my table for my children."

'It's just ridiculous'

"The capacity is not even 50 percent of what the people need to get off the island," Crane said.

"They'll put in 15, 16 hours for an eight-hour shift. It's just ridiculous."

Protesters insist they are not trying to take anything away from Fogo, but simply fighting to keep a boat they waited more than a year-and-half for.

The Legionnaire was years in the works and only arrived on the Bell Island route this past summer.

Crane said they are entitled to a better option than losing the Legionnaire for a "rust bucket" like the Beaumont Hamel.

He worries what will happen in the winter months, as he says the aging Beaumont Hamel is less reliable than newer ships like the Legionnaire.

Bell Island ferry users protested the removal of the MV Legionnaire to Fogo Island to cover for the broken-down Veteran in 2017. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

The Legionnaire was supposed to depart for Fogo this weekend. On Saturday, protests flared up as residents boarded the boat and stopped on the ramp in Portugal Cove–St. Phillips.

Protesters allowed the ferry to make its final crossing of the night, remaining camped out on the ramp.

The protest on Sunday morning was lightly monitored by one RCMP officer who stopped by and asked what their intentions were.

"We're staying here all day," a protester replied.

The crowd of protesters varied throughout the day as people came and went, but was steadily between 20 and 30 people.