Nfld. & Labrador

Marine Atlantic has cancelled 166 ferry runs so far, and more are coming

The interprovincial ferry service has never seen weather systems like it's dealt with this fiscal year.

Weather systems are hanging around for longer this fiscal year than they've ever seen

Trucks line up at the North Sydney Marine Atlantic terminal earlier this month. (Yvonne Leblanc-Smith/CBC)

As high winds batter the port towns on both sides of the Cabot Strait, Marine Atlantic shut down its ferry service again on Wednesday morning — the fourth straight day with no boats running.

The ferry service has now cancelled 166 scheduled runs since April 1, 2018. That's six more than the previous fiscal year, with an entire month left to go.

According to spokesperson Darrell Mercer, Marine Atlantic has never had to deal with weather quite like this.

"Usually, a storm system would be fairly quick moving. It would come in, disrupt a sailing or two and move on," he said. "But these systems right now are stationary, they are staying for longer periods of time and they are causing us a lot of headaches."

Disruption to deliveries

The ferry operates four runs per day — two from North Sydney, N.S., and two from Port aux Basques, N.L. — and is an essential route for getting food and other products to the island.

Mercer said there are about 200 shipping units on the Nova Scotia side waiting to go to Newfoundland, and 130 more stranded on the other side.

"That's going to grow throughout today and if we're impacted tomorrow, we're going to see an even greater impact," Mercer said.

Delays and cancellations have become more common in recent years, Mercer said, since the ferry service stopped the process of "jogging the coast." The ferries used to leave port and sail up and down the coastline, waiting for a window to cross the strait. Sometimes the process would last more than 12 hours.

"We had feedback from our customers that this was not very pleasant being out in rough sea conditions for extended periods of time," Mercer said.

Both ferries ran into trouble in 2015 when they were stuck in ice. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

The captains now review weather forecasts 12 hours in advance of a crossing and make a decision on whether or not they can sail. High winds have forced the boats to be docked since the weekend.

As of Wednesday morning, Marine Atlantic was still hoping to get boats on the strait by the night, but had issued an advisory saying all crossings were at risk of being cancelled.

Mercer said they are hoping the winds will die down within 24 hours, but the Thursday night crossings are also listed as being in jeopardy right now.

"It's certainly been a challenging week," said Mercer.

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