New ferry for Bell Island in 2016

Andrew Robinson
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Michael Squires lives on Bell Island but recently started a job in St. John's, so he's familiar with the complications that can arise when relying on the ferry to commute to work.
"I fully understand what everyone goes through now," said Squires, seated in his vehicle in Portugal Cove waiting for the MV Flanders to arrive Monday afternoon.

Jan van Hogerwou, Damen Shipyard’s manager for North American operations, leaves a news conference Monday after taking part in the announcement of a new ferry for Bell Island. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

He's hopeful the long lineups and mechanical issues will become a thing of the past in light of the fact that Damen Shipyards of Norway will build a new 80-metre vessel to replace the MV Beaumont Hamel.

Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath said the new ferry is scheduled to be ready for service in February 2016. Its specifications match those of a new ferry recently announced for Fogo Island and Change Islands that Damen Shipyards is also contracted to build.

Valued at $49.5 million, the new vessel will hold 200 passengers and 60 vehicles at capacity, almost double the capacity of the MV Beaumont Hamel with respect to both categories. The government previously announced $10 million in spending for wharf upgrades to accommodate a new vessel.

Stewart King was born on Bell Island but no longer lives there, though he still visits regularly. With the increased capacity, he expects that even if the Flanders encounters problems and temporarily leaves the island with a one-vessel service, the situation will not be as dire in comparison to previous years.

"She'll clean up the backlog pretty fast," he said while waiting in the lineup to board a ferry to Bell Island on Monday.

Ed Kent, a consultant with the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee for close to 30 years, said the new vessel will give Bell Island a chance to rejuvenate its economy and give commuting residents greater flexibility.

"We've got 500 people that commute back and forth to Bell Island. Lately they've been up at 3 or 3:30 a.m. to get the 6 a.m. ferry, because if they don't get down there early ... even if they have priority, still they can't get on. They're into 12- or 14-hour days. We're losing business opportunities over there because everyone realizes it takes too long to get on a boat. For tourism in the summer time, we don't hardly encourage people to come over anymore, because they'll have to wait so long."

Conception Bay East MHA and Bell Island resident David Brazil said moving more people to and from the island will also benefit Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, given its role as the gateway to Bell Island.

"That opens up opportunities within these communities for economic growth," said Brazil. "We need to develop better partnerships between Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, Paradise and the Town of Wabana and the whole of Bell Island."

If all goes well with the new vessel, Squires expects there's a good chance he will continue to live on Bell Island. However, if issues encountered in the past fail to disappear, the young man wonders whether he will need to move to ensure making it to work is never at the whim of the ferry service.

"If it gets worse, I might have to move to St. John's," said Squires.

The Department of Transportation and Works has scheduled a news conference today for an announcement concerning ferry services in Labrador.


Organizations: Damen Shipyards, Flanders, Bell Island Ferry Users Committee Squires.The Department of Transportation and Works

Geographic location: Bell Island, Norway, Fogo Island Change Islands Portugal Cove Wabana St. John's Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Taxpayer
    December 17, 2013 - 12:09

    I say close that miserable little island of unemployed layabouts down. They don't know a hard day's work. Our taxes have been subsidizing them too long. It's not financally viable. Relocate them all to the mainland. Then after we close Newfoundland down, PEI will be next. It's interesting how ignorant, narrow-minded, bigoted statements are so casually thrown around to dehumanize an entire group of people for a self-serving end.

    • Corporate Psycho
      December 18, 2013 - 15:30

      Could say the same about Corner Brook.

    • Madonna
      December 18, 2013 - 19:48

      This comment shd be removed. The comments are irrational and out of bounds. He has no real idea of the validity of his comments. Does he know or connect with any individuals that live and commute to/from bell island each and every day. These are real people with families, children and grandchildren. Like everyone, they wish to provide a comfortable life for theirselves and their families. I beg this individual or others to give up their lifestyle. Think before you speak. Know your facts.

  • Jon Smith
    December 17, 2013 - 09:49

    If government can spend $ 50 million for a bridge at Placentia with about 60% of that wasted cost for a lift feature to serve a half a dozen people with yachts, it can surely spend $50 million for a ferry for Bell Island.

    • Brett
      December 17, 2013 - 11:52

      two wrongs don't make a right. Since it's also my money - I'm fairly sure "I" could do without either. I just wish these services underwent a transparent process determining the economic benefit/cost of each service. Sure Bell Island will see some tourism money, aside from the people living there going to work on the main island, but what are they giving up to pay for that service? How does the service benefit the rest of the island? Let alone the question of whether we actually want people living on Bell island? Do we want new housing development there? Where do we actually want to build and have people live? Do we want to have 15,000 people living there? Would that make the services sustainable?

  • brett
    December 17, 2013 - 08:44

    What I've never seen is the cost of the ferry (lifetime cost of purchase/operation etc) compared to the amount of money provided by the taxpayers that use it. From what I've found there are approx. 3000 residents of Bell Island. Is this a reasonable amount of money to spend on 3000 people? When you consider the tax they pay and subtract out the services rendered (health care, electrical, roads in the community, garbage pickup, street plowing, education etc), what is left to pay for the ferry? How much is subsidized by the rest of the island?

    • Madonna
      December 18, 2013 - 19:55

      This is not solely for the residents of bell island. Again you must get your facts straight. There are many individuals from other areas that work on Bell Island - schools and hospitals as an example. There is a great tourist industry on the Island. Many retirees now move to BI as they retire. Families friends and others visit BI. It is self sufficient despite being separated by water - an effect of Mother Nature. There are families here. This is their life and lifestyle. You cannot make assumed comments without knowing the history and facts.

  • Corporate Psycho
    December 17, 2013 - 07:30

    Smells like a givaway to me? Should be built in NL.