MV Confederation with mechanical problems at the dock in Wiid Islands May 15. Sean MacDougall photo

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A mechanical problem led to a delay of over four hours for the first crossing of the season at Northumberland Ferries Ltd. Friday morning.

There were about 20 truckers lined up to catch the scheduled 6:30 am sailing of the M.V. Confederation. Because of provincial precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19, for now, only large commercial trucks (larger than 30’ in length) and their drivers are permitted to board for interprovincial crossings.

The long delay saw more than half the truckers turn around to take the alternate route off-Island, across the Confederation Bridge.

Robert O’Connor was one. He says at about 6:30 am, a member of the ferry’s staff informed truckers the crossing would be delayed.

“There was a guy who drove around in a little cart and he came down and he said, there is going to be a delay because of their electrical,” says Mr O’Connor, who then waited at the terminal for another hour and a half.

“At 8 am, he came back and said, she’s not going. They’re bringing the (M.V Holiday Island) over from the other side,” says Mr O’Connor.

While O’Connor and others re-routed, about seven or eight trucks stayed in line at the ferry terminal and waited for the M.V. Holiday Island to pick them up.

Shane Kerr, one of those who waited, says the ship arrived to pick the remaining truckers up at about 11 am and dropped them off in Nova Scotia by about 12:10.

David Hynes runs Greenfield Enterprises and Hynes Paving. Mr Hynes oversees about 20 trucks, which he says transport millions of pounds of crab and seafood from the Island, mostly through Nova Scotia, to Newfoundland. He also trucks materials for paving back to PEI.

“The ferry is such a saviour of time,” says Hynes. “It’s critical.”

He says the ferry service saves his drivers hours of time travelling in each direction.

About seven of his trucks were ready to take the ferry Friday morning, then readjusted when the delay was prolonged.

“We were able to work around it,” says Hynes. “They had some mechanical issues there; we run into issues like that ourselves.”

Despite the hiccup, Mr Hynes says he thinks ferry staff did their best to get the service running.

Service opened to large commercial trucks (larger than 30’ in length) only on Friday. Crossings are scheduled six days a week, Sunday to Friday.

“They really seem like they’re trying to accommodate us,” says Hynes. “We’re glad to see the service start,”

Hynes adds that even the two week difference in the ferry’s start date makes a significant difference to his companies.

NFL representatives were not available for comment about the condition of the M.V. Confederation but they have moved forward with scheduled crossings for essential truck cargo.

The fact that the PEI to Nova Scotia crossings would be allowed by public health authorities, to begin Friday was announced last Wednesday after a series of possible start dates had been announced over the past months.

“We are pleased to be resuming ferry service to help support our communities and the economy,” said Mark MacDonald, Chairman and CEO of NFL.

“We appreciate the efforts of our employees to prepare our vessels for service over the past two months, under challenging circumstances.”

The pared down service could be expanded to include other essential travellers in the near future.

In April, Don Cormier VP of Operations and Safety Management with the company, said plans were in place to begin crossing with limited traffic, May 1.

But that changed after consultations with public health officials in both provinces. After these consultations, the opening date was reset to June 1.

Following the date setback, Eastern PEI Chamber of Commerce lobbied the government on behalf of businesses in the region who say they depend on the ferry service opening sooner than June 1.

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