Charges are expected to be laid soon in connection with a recent fire that extensively damaged a boat owned by O'Brien's Boat Tours in Bay Bulls.
The Ferryland RCMP has been investigating a rash of vandalism, including the boat fire, a crane fire at the Bay Bulls Marine Terminal and windows being smashed out in a bed and breakfast, the local post office and church.
Joe O'Brien, one of the owners of the tour company, said Sunday he's learned four people in their early 20s were seen in the area on the night of June 11, when the acts of vandalism occurred within minutes of each other.
O'Brien said witnesses have been co-operating with the police, and it's his understanding charges will be laid as soon as all the paperwork is done.
He said a lot of people saw a group of young people being rowdy in the area that night and knew there was going to be trouble.
Witnesses saw them leaving the marine terminal, O'Brien said, and people were actually staying at the bed and breakfast, Bay Bulls Efficiency Units, when a rock was thrown through a window right into their room.
O'Brien said his tour boat, the Atlantic Puffin, worth about $500,000, is "almost a total writeoff."
He said the vandals broke into the cabin of the vessel and hit the bar, stealing most of the alcohol and throwing some bottles of whiskey and vodka, with the jiggers still on them, right out in the harbour.
There were some soft drinks left on the boat, O'Brien said, "but they took most of the booze off the boat, what they could lug off," and then set the cabin on fire.
O'Brien said the incident happened right at a time when the tour company was gearing up for its busy tourist season.
"We were supposed to start with two vessels that weekend, he said. "I got up Saturday morning, and Loyola, my partner, called me and said, 'Your Puffin is gone,' and I said, 'No way.' It was a pretty hard day," O'Brien said.
The O'Briens had the Atlantic Puffin for 22 years. O'Brien said it's now in dry dock for insurance appraisers to assess, but they're not optimistic.
"There's a lot of stress damage between the two decks," he said.
The tour company will have to charter another boat to fill the void for the summer. O'Brien said he's hoping to have a boat confirmed by Wednesday.
That will be another expense for the company, but O'Brien said, two vessels are needed to handle all their bookings.
"When you have people booked in, they want you to deliver and when you don't deliver, you kind of lose your reputation, so you've kind of got to do the best you can to make sure you can deliver," O'Brien said.
The tourist season for O'Brien's Boat Tours begins in May and runs until the end of September and the business is open every day of the week.
O'Brien said some people also book well in advance. "We're getting calls today for next year, all the time. He said a lot of big conferences and groups book a year to two years in advance.
Since this incident involving his boat, O'Brien said a lot of people who owned uninsured fishing vessels in the area have purchased insurance.
He said they never before thought they needed insurance because nothing like this would happen.
People in the community are very concerned about this level of "pretty brazen, bold" vandalism, O'Brien said.
"We've never seen the like of that in Bay Bulls in my time growing up here," he said. In the old days, he said, some young people might tackle a crab tree until the homeowner came out and fired a shotgun in the air and shouted at them to get out of there. "But, this is a whole new level."
O'Brien said the only thing that gives him some sense of relief is that the acts of vandalism were random and he wasn't personally targeted. "But it's not a very good feeling to see all of this equipment destroyed," he said.
While its boats are insured, O'Brien said the tour company doesn't have business disruption insurance so it's on its own with respect to any loss in business.
And, besides the clients booked for tours, O'Brien said the Atlantic Puffin had a crew of four depending on that boat to get employment this summer, not to mention the economic spinoffs for restaurants and other businesses in the area.
But looking at the brighter picture, O'Brien expects to come up with another vessel quickly which he'll rent for the summer months.
"We don't give up on our clients," he said. "You might knock us down, but you don't hold us down. That's the Newfoundland mentality, we keep looking ahead."