Îles de la Madeleine ferry diverted by heavy ice
'They hit a wall of just tough, very thick, compacted ice'
Cold temperatures and northwest winds have created a heavy ice pack around Prince Edward Island, forcing the Îles de la Madeleine ferry away from its regular dock in Souris.
The Canadian Coast Guard called in its heaviest icebreaker, the Louis St. Laurent, to guide the ferry into the port in Souris, but it wasn't enough.
"About 16 miles [25 kilometres] north of the Island they hit a wall of just tough, very thick, compacted ice which stopped the Louis," said Brad Durnford, superintendent of ice breaking operations.
"Instead of putting the passengers in a situation when they may get stuck, and be stuck in that ice for days, they decided on scene to take the ferry to Cape Breton."
Durnford said the risk is that with the wind continuing to blow, any track created by the icebreaker could fill in immediately behind it. If that happens after the ferry had been following the icebreaker for a while it would be stuck, unable to move forward or back.
The ferry diverted to North Sydney, N.S.
'You can really notice the difference'
Thelma MacDonald, a councillor in Souris, said even one cancelled or diverted ferry crossing has an impact on the town.
"It makes things pretty quiet around here, on the streets and in the stores," she said.
"The last few days haven't been great because of the ice conditions. The ferry has not been able to come in. You can really notice the difference for sure."
CTMA, the company that runs the ferry service has sailings three times per week during the winter.
MacDonald said she's worried the heavy ice will cause the problem to continue.
"I don't think it's going to end any way soon."
Jamie Antle with CTMA, said the Coast Guard will reassess the ice conditions on Monday to see if sailings can return to Souris. In the meantime the next crossing will be from North Sydney.
There is an oil tanker due to visit Charlottetown next week.
"That's going to be a challenge, I'm sure, depending on how the ice is doing there," said Durnford.
"It's considerably thicker now in the Strait. Nobody's been through there in a while. It'll be tough going but we'll get her in there."
It's just really intense.- Brad Durnford
It has been a heavy year for ice, said Durnford. Cold temperatures have been creating the ice, and northwest winds have been jamming it up against Cape Breton and from there it is backing up toward P.E.I.
He said it's been a while since the ferry had to be diverted, and it may be some time before the ice clears. It will take a south wind to blow the ice away and, of course, warmer temperatures.
"It's been an exceptional year so far for this constant building of ice, no real destruction, no clearing out of any areas," said Durnford.
"It's just really intense around P.E.I. right now."
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With files from Island Morning and Julien Lecacheur