Sydney, N.S. -
A fire on board a Marine Atlantic ferry heading to Port aux Basques early Wednesday morning, forced the vessel to return to North Sydney.
The fire was discovered in a thermal heating unit on the MV Atlantic Vision around 6:30 a.m., a little over an hour into the crossing. It was contained to the boiler room.
Many of the over 600 passengers were asleep in their cabins and awoke to the ship's announcement that there was an incident on board the vessel.
"When the alarm first went off we thought, oh, a wake up call. But quickly realized that it wasn't, that it was a ship's announcement," said Roxanne Chisholm who, along with her husband Andrew, were on their way to the Baie Verte Peninsula.
"They told us that the boat wasn't sinking, that everything was under control, but that we were heading back," she said.
The Chisholms, who are from Antigonish N.S., are travelling to Newfoundland to attend a friend's wedding.
"Not only are we standing in the wedding, we have the bride's dress in the truck with us," she said.
"We also have a lot of the decorations. I already missed the bachelorette party, which was Wednesday night."
She said passengers were allowed to return to their vehicles to get medications, but otherwise had to leave their vehicles and possessions behind.
"We have to take it for what it is," said Andrew Chisholm.
"Marine Atlantic were pretty good to give us information. Just enough so people wouldn't panic, which makes sense."
Using a vessel manifest, the passengers were all accounted for and upon arrival in North Sydney, were transferred to the terminal by shuttle.
The MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood, which was originally scheduled to go to Argentia, was expected to depart at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday for Port aux Basques with passengers and vehicles from the Atlantic Vision.
Marine Atlantic's marine superintendent, Keith Hopkins, said this is the second incident involving a fire in the thermal heating units on board the Atlantic Vision.
On Dec. 27, while the vessel was anchored in North Sydney awaiting the beginning of service, a fire broke out in one of two thermal heating units on the vessel. The fire was extinguished and no injuries were reported. However, damage to the ship delayed its entry into service, originally slated for early March.
Hopkins explained the thermal heating units are fuelled by diesel or bunker oil and heat the fuel for the main engines and the ship's hot water.
"This is the second incident, I don't know at this time if it is the same cause," Hopkins said. "We didn't see any flames, but as a precautionary measure the assumption is always there that there is fire. Steps were taken to starve the fire, if it existed. After we did this, the temperature started to drop."
The fire in December was caused by a deterioration of coils in the thermal heating unit.
"We have our reps coming in from out of the country to open the unit, get inside and do a proper investigation on what happened."
Within 15 minutes of receiving the call, Hopkins contacted Transport Canada. He added that all the regulating bodies (Transport Canada, the classification societies and Marine Atlantic) will have to be in agreement that the vessel is safe to go, in order for the Vision to be re-instated into service.
North Sydney and Sydney Mines fire departments used thermal imagining cameras to give firefighters a better understanding of what they were dealing with. They also brought in positive pressure fans to ventilate and cool the boiler room area.
John Majchrowicz, vice-president of operations, who has been on the job for about two weeks, said Marine Atlantic is expecting the Atlantic Vision to be out of service for a minimum of 24 hours.
"We will be restricting commercial traffic to the MV Leif Ericson to allow for more room on the Smallwood and the Caribou," he said. "We are contacting the Atlantic Trucker's Association and our other commercial customers to advise them of our situation and identify critical loads that need to get to Newfoundland and Labrador."
Majchrowicz said he contacted the RCMP to request they direct commercial traffic away from the terminal for the time being.
The North Sydney terminal parking lot is closed to traffic until further notice. New reservations for any crossings will not be accepted for the next 24 hours to enable to Marine Atlantic to reschedule and contact customers affected by the schedule changes.