SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Truckers started taking a new ferry between Digby, N.S. and Saint John, N.B. late this July. In some respects the Fundy Rose is good news, but some carriers and shippers say it is too small, and especially undersized for the busy lobster season traffic.
For ages the fishing industry in southwestern Nova Scotia has depended on the Princess of Acadia, with its room for 22 or so transport trucks, to get their cargo across the Bay of Fundy and heading to US destinations like Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Seafood is a time-sensitive product that is harvested, packed, trucked to market and laid out for customers in roughly 24-hour cycles.
The alternative to the ferry, which sails about 80 kilometres as the crow flies, is a 614-kilometre drive via Truro and Moncton.
This July 28, the Fundy Rose, formerly the Blue Star Ithaki, from Greece, replaced the 41-year-old Princess of Acadia. Although able to make the crossing 45 minutes faster, the 15-year-old, 400-foot-long Fundy Rose only has room for 14 trucks, by ferry operator Bay Ferries’ estimates, says Norm Lockyer, CFO Nautical Seafoods, Parker’s Cove, N.S.
“Especially around lobster season there will be more than 14 trucks. With the Princess there was the extra room.”
Bay Ferries did not respond to interview requests from Truck News.
Lockyer is also the past chair of the Bay of Fundy Marine Transportation Association, which dissolved in June.
Somewhere between when the search for a new ferry began in 2013 and the purchase of the Blue Star Ithaki, assurances that a new ferry would not be smaller than the Princess of Acadia sank to the bottom.
“The Request for Interest spec’ called for less capacity. Transport Canada said, ‘Don’t worry. It is only a minimum spec’.’ The operator said, ‘We won’t accept anything less than the current size.’ We told Transport Canada the ferry was too small,” Lockyer says. “She was bought too small, and that’s it. It’s a matter now of everyone doing the best they can.”
Bay Ferries began a new afternoon departure of 5:30 p.m. this summer. It used to be 4 p.m.
This puts carriers behind the eight ball, explains Neil LeBlanc, owner, N. LeBlanc Enterprises, and Chebogue Fisheries in Nova Scotia.
“When you are trying to beat the traffic into Boston, the later you go, the more likely you are to hit traffic. We would have liked to have the same departure time. From our viewpoint we recognize that there could be time delays at the border, weather, etc. It is all about logistics. We want to account for contingencies that could happen,” he said.
Bay Ferries has added a morning run, with an 11:15 a.m. departure from Digby. This is of limited value to the fishing industry, however, as pick-ups, mostly LTL, are done throughout the day.
“For us, if it is live lobster, you won’t load the day before. Pulling loads together for an early departure would be problematic. It would help if they take non-essential trucks for the earlier departure, but for seafood products, it will be challenging to get loads together to meet an earlier sailing,” LeBlanc says.
“The answer to the reduced capacity was more crossings. But everyone wants the 4 p.m. crossing,” Lockyer adds.
The problem with going around by road is the need for two drivers. And simply hitting the road if the ferry has no room on this day or that is not an option, Lockyer says. “You don’t get drivers off the shelf. You don’t plan this day-to-day. You either drive around or you don’t. And who wants to drive the Cobequid Pass in the winter?”
LeBlanc adds, “I’m sure Bay Ferries will try their best to accommodate every truck, but I’m sure that there will be days when there won’t be enough space and loads will have to go around.”
There is a commercial reservation system, which lets carriers reserve any number of spots with seven days’ advance notice. Cancellation fees start at 48 hours before sailing.
Lockyer is still not sure how many rigs the Fundy Rose can squeeze in.
“The ferry hasn’t been pressed to capacity. When the RVs go, we’ll see how it goes in the fall,” Lockyer says.
LeBlanc hopes that Bay Ferries will listen to their concerns about the 5:30 run but still, he says, “We are going to have to change how we do things. There will be days when we can’t get on. There will be days when we might not run a truck.”
Looking at the bigger economic picture, Lockyer is frustrated because this smaller ferry leaves no room for expansion. “The northeastern states have upgraded their airlines, and Hwy. 9 to accommodate the New England Gateway. This is real. This is happening. Look at the upgrade of the highway between Saint John and St. Stephens. Where was the Nova Scotia government in this?”