Nfld. & Labrador

Ferry problems persist for N.L. coastal service

The ferry roulette continues with Newfoundland's coastal service.

Bell Island, St. Brendan's, Fogo Island all affected by latest problems

The MV Flanders is once again headed to drydock for repairs, leaving one ferry on the Bell Island service. (CBC)

The ferry roulette continues with Newfoundland's coastal service.

The provincial government announced Wednesday that problems with the MV Flanders will disrupt scheduled crossings for Bell Island-Portugal Cove, as well as St. Brendan's on the south coast.

The plan is for the Flanders to enter drydock in St. John's Wednesday night, leaving only the aging Galatea running on a load-and-go basis into the night.

To help with Bell Island traffic, the ferry Grace Sparkes, which operates between St. Brendan's and Burnside, is being reassigned to Bell Island and should arrive some time Thursday.

That leaves only a helicopter to service St. Brendan's until steering repairs are completed on the Flanders, and the Sparkes can return to the south coast.

That's expected by Monday of next week.

On top of that, the Sound of Islay, which services Fogo Island, must also go into drydock to plug leaks due to cracks in the hull of the 45-year-old vessel.

Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath told CBC Radio's On The Go that the Sound of Islay will be undergoing "normal, regular maintenance."

But NDP transportation critic George Murphy said the minister is downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

"It just gets more disturbing," Murphy said. "To tell you the truth, it's only a matter of time - quote me on it - before we start hearing about an accident that's really gonna happen."

He worries last year's incident in which the Beaumont Hamel ran into the wharf at Portugal Cove due to mechanical problems was just a warning sign.

"We're talking about cracks in the hull here (with the Sound of Islay). This is not funny. This is something serious. A crack in the hull of a ferry is not routine maintenance to me. It's not."

McGrath, meanwhile, said he's spoken with the mayors of Bell Island and St. Brendan's, who have been co-operative.

The minister was also asked if he thought the current fleet of aging ferries can last until new ones arrive.

"We certainly hope so. When you think about it, you have a steel hull, engines and computer systems. And we have expert staff. The best in province. And I feel quite confident that we'll continue to provide a service until we get all of the new ferries on stream."

A new ferry for the Bell Island run is due to arrive in two years from now, while a second new vessel is expected for Fogo Island by September 2015.

A request for proposals for two new ferries for the straits and north coast of Labrador has also been issued.