A break in the weather has enabled Marine Atlantic to get its ferries moving, but the backlog created by two weeks of poor conditions won’t be cleared up in a day.
Darrell Mercer, the Crown corporation’s media relations officer, told The Telegram Wednesday afternoon Marine Atlantic has added extra crossings between North Sydney and Port aux Basques.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can to clear up the backlog. It’s not a load-and-go, but we’re trying to fit in as many crossings as we can,” he said.
Mercer said Marine Atlantic put the Leif Ericson back in service out of Port aux Basques to join the Atlantic Vision, Highlanders and Blue Puttees, which are all loading in North Sydney and expected to arrive in this province at different times over the next few days.
“We’ve basically doubled our crossings and will have a ferry leaving every six hours and will continue until we put a dent in the backlog,” he said in a subsequent update.
The Leif Ericson left Port aux Basques at 12:30 p.m. and had 62 commercial vehicles on board. Seventy more were still waiting.
After Marine Atlantic cancelled both ferry crossings to Port aux Basques Tuesday — at 11:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. — primarily due to high winds, there were only 13 commercial vehicles waiting to get to North Sydney.
On the North Sydney side, the Blue Puttees left at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and had 90 commercial units on board as well as 223 passengers who had been stranded for almost two days.
“That’s the positive news. The not-so-positive news is there were 200 (commercial vehicles) still waiting,” said Mercer.
He said once it unloads it will reload in Port aux Basques and head right back to North Sydney.
Between thick sea ice and storm-force gales, Marine Atlantic’s ferries have been having a hard time meeting regularly scheduled crossings.
Mercer said the Highlanders ran into trouble Monday when it got stuck in ice with 271 passengers on board, but fortunately was able to get out of it on its own. However, it was four hours late.
The Highlanders was also one of two ferries that became temporarily stuck in ice last week, delaying arrival times for about 800 passengers travelling between the two provinces.
Mercer said as soon as the corporation would make some headway, another weather-related issue would set the crossings back again.
“We’re doing better today than yesterday,” he said.
“We’re making progress throughout the day. We need to keep our fingers crossed. The winds are looking good now, and the ice conditions haven’t been identified as causing an impact, but if something happens we have the Terry Fox (icebreaker) in Cape Breton if it’s needed,” Mercer said.
The Highlanders is expected to leave North Sydney at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Atlantic Vision will then load and leave at 11:45 p.m. and the Leif Ericson was expected to leave at 6:30 a.m. today.
Jean Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, told The Telegram Tuesday the weather-related delays are starting to take a toll on his members.
“It’s been a really hard winter for delays, and this seems to be the tip of the iceberg this last week, because we thought we were out of the woods,” said Picard.
“We lose money,” he said, adding Marine Atlantic has been keeping the association updated, but it is still frustrating for the companies trying to get products moving as fast as possible.
Depending on load configurations, Mercer said the Highlanders and Blue Puttees each average 75-90 commercial units per crossing; the Atlantic Vision averages 60-80 commercial units per crossing; the Leif Ericson averages 50-65 commercial units per crossing.
“These are averages and are dependent upon the commercial truck mix (tractor-trailers, drop trailers, cube trucks, etc.) and passenger vehicles that would be on any given crossing,” he said.
Ferry users are being advised to check the website www.marine-atlantic.ca daily for advisories and updates.