Ferry contract tendered for Strait of Belle Isle run

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is looking for proposals to operate the ferry service to southern Labrador.

Request for proposals also coming this week for northern Labrador, government says

The Apollo, the 42-year-old vessel that has been on the Strait of Belle Isle ferry run for years, is set to be replaced by a bigger ship. (Labrador Marine)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is looking for a ferry operator to improve service across the Strait of Belle Isle.

In a request for proposals, the provincial department of transportation says it wants to increase the number of vehicles and passengers that can be accommodated on the run from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon, Quebec, just across the boarder from southern Labrador.

"We're opening up a new frontier for people," said Transportation Minister Steve Crocker, referencing the Trans-Labrador Highway.

It is asking for a new, ice-reinforced, ferry to replace the Apollo, the vessel currently on the run, under the operation of Labrador Marine, a member of the Woodward Group of Companies.

"The Apollo has done yeoman service. It's 42 years old. I think it has served its lifespan well," Crocker said. 

July 6 is the deadline to receive proposals, with a view toward getting a new vessel into service by March 2019.

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A new operator will be required to move 120 vehicles, up from 85, and 300 passengers, up from 250. The contract will be for 12 years with an option to extend.

"We have a serious commitment to a fixed link and wanted to make sure that the ferry schedule matched that schedule," Crocker said.

A report released in April on the feasibility of a link between Newfoundland and Labrador recommended an undersea rail tunnel at a cost of $1.65 billion, with the province calling it a "nation-building project" worthy of federal help.

According to Crocker, another request for proposals will be issued this week for the northern Labrador service.

The government is also still hunting for an operator to serve seven communities on the south coast of the island after bids in the first round didn't meet the cut.

Crocker said department officials have met with the bidders and will consider their feedback when issuing a second call for proposals in a month or so.