Efficiency key to moving traffic, says former Marine Atlantic captain

Cliff Wells
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The Marine Atlantic ferry Leif Ericson sits at the dock in Port aux Basques.

Corner Brook — A former captain of the MV Caribou said port time is an issue for the Marine Atlantic ferry service now.

With the MV Atlantic Vision in its annual refit at Verreault Shipyard in Les Méchins, Que. and the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood headed to Boston Ship Repair for an emergency repair to the port rudder, Marine Atlantic is left with two boats handling the traffic across the Gulf of St. Lawrence — the MV Leif Ericson and the MV Caribou.

Capt. Herb Murrin was master of the Caribou for 18 years. During his time as captain he gained a lot of experience with the Crown corporation.

He said he doesn’t think the Caribou and Ericson are adequate for the Gulf run on their own, but he’d want to see traffic volumes before setting that opinion in stone.

He said employees at Marine Atlantic are doing their best to clear the backlog caused by the mechanical problems with the Smallwood, but the amount of time spent in port is an issue.

The amount of time spent in port can vary with the type of traffic the ships carry, but he’s heard the boats are in port four or five hours before leaving again.

“Back in the day with the Caribou and the Smallwood, we’d turn the Caribou around in about an hour in the summer months, but we probably weren’t handling as many drop (trailers) as they’re handling now,” Murrin said. “The more drop traffic you handle, the more port time you have.

“Moving traffic with a ship is the same as everything else, it all depends on how efficient you are.”

Meanwhile, the gale force winds predicted for the Gulf of St. Lawrence hadn’t held up the ships as of press time.

Rudder trouble

Tara Laing, communications officer with Marine Atlantic, said the Smallwood’s port rudder developed intermittent trouble last weekend and then worsened. The steering device on the port side of the ship stopped working, which led to the decision to take the Smallwood out of service Sunday.

“Back in the day with the Caribou and the Smallwood, we’d turn the Caribou around in about an hour in the summer months, but we probably weren’t handling as many drop (trailers) as they’re handling now.” Capt. Herb Murrin

See PLETHORA, page D2

Passengers would not have noticed the problem, she said. The malfunction is near where the rudder connects with the ship. But to ensure optimum safety, it was decided to have the rudder repaired before resuming service.

“There are two rudders on this vessel,” Laing said. “Many vessels only have one. For us the optimal thing is to have the two rudders fully operational because the first priority is the safety of our ship, the people that travel with us and our crew, so that has to be fixed, especially given the sometimes harsh environment we travel in.

She said the Caribou and Ericson sailed on time Thursday morning thanks to good timing and a favourable wind direction. She said the southwesterly flow didn’t interrupt the service, and the captains were hopeful, based on the forecast, there wouldn’t be an interruption of the service later in the day.

She said with a bit of luck with the wind speed and direction at critical points in the crossing, there wouldn’t be a problem overnight.

“Wind speeds and directions tend to be most impacted when we’re entering and exiting port,” Laing said Thursday afternoon. “As of (Thursday afternoon) we’re continuing to travel.”

If the overnight trips go as scheduled, by this morning the updated schedule should be rebooked. She said letting people know their new reservation time and rebooking the boats is taking a little longer than expected because so many people are calling the customer service line looking for answers.

“When inquiries call in we have to move people from the rebooking process to responding to customers’ questions,” she said. “We are asking customers, if you are travelling next week, hold off, we are committed to getting back to you with your updated sailing time.”

The Western Star

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Smallwood, MV Atlantic Vision

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Les Méchins, Western Star

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