Nova Scotia

COVID-19 cancels Yarmouth ferry this year

The service was originally scheduled to begin at the end of this month and was later pushed back to the middle of July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Stephen McNeil says pandemic situation in U.S. too great a risk

The Yarmouth ferry will not sail this year, the second season in a row without the service. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The Cat ferry will be docked for another summer, this time because of fears about the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

The ferry service will not sail between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, this year. Premier Stephen McNeil made the announcement Friday during his COVID-19 media briefing.

The service was originally scheduled to begin at the end of this month and was later pushed back to the middle of July due to the pandemic. McNeil said the ferry was ready to sail next month, but his government could not overlook the situation with high rates of COVID-19 in the U.S.

"Opening up to the U.S. in the near future does not seem safe," he said.

McNeil said the government did not believe there was sufficient screening protocol in place on either side to allow the ship to bring people into Nova Scotia.

Too much uncertainty

In a statement, Mark MacDonald, CEO of ferry operator Bay Ferries, said there was too much uncertainty about what's happening with the pandemic to salvage the season.

"International non-essential travel worldwide has essentially come to a standstill. It is not clear when U.S. operations would be permitted to occur, what opportunity would exist for proper marketing of the service and what short-term customer demand would be."

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said the news is disappointing, but not surprising.

"Honestly, it's mixed equally with the fact that it was absolutely the right decision," she said.

The loss of the service will only increase the challenges the local tourism industry was going to face as a result of the pandemic. Mood said the need for people to shop locally is more important than ever.

"This is of paramount importance. If we want these businesses to survive, then every single one of us needs to step up and do our part."

The local chamber of commerce recently launched a buy-local campaign to encourage people to keep their money in the community as much as possible.

Still a cost for the service

The ship will remain in its off-season home of Charleston, S.C., and MacDonald said plans are for the service to resume next spring.

"The pandemic has proven to be an enormous challenge to the ferry industry worldwide," he said in an email. "However, there is also a strong sentiment that ferries will be seen as an attractive mode of travel going forward. Obviously the short term has been challenging, but we are optimistic for the future."

He said the focus for his company now is on reducing costs.

Despite the ship not sailing this year, McNeil said there would be some amount of money paid to the operator, Bay Ferries. He could not say how much.

A spokesperson for the province said they're still trying to determine what that number will be.

The ferry was also unable to sail last year because the ferry terminal in Maine was not ready to open. The service still cost the province $17.8 million.