Vehicles may not be recovered from stricken MV Holiday Island

Ferry service between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia has been suspended for the weekend due to a fire that forced more than 200 passengers and staff to evacuate the MV Holiday Island on Friday.

Northumberland Ferries announced Friday evening the ferry service between Caribou, N.S., and Wood Islands, P.E.I., would be cancelled for a second day due to the emergency situation at the MV Holiday Island. It said in an update Saturday morning that all crossings would also be cancelled through Sunday.

On Saturday, passengers were told by Northumberland Ferries via text message that the company isn’t sure whether vehicles on board can be recovered and that fire was still burning.

“[We] can’t with any certainty determine whether there will be eventually be any sort of damage to vehicles. Right now, we don’t believe there’s a lot of damage,” said Don Cormier, the company’s vice-president.

“Our intent is to tow the vessel back to port and, yes, discharge vehicles. But we think that will take time.”

Smoke still rose Saturday afternoon

As of Saturday afternoon, smoke could still be seen billowing from the ferry that was headed to P.E.I., almost a full day after a fire broke out from the vessel’s engine room.

Cormier said crew and firefighters ended onboard efforts to extinguish the fire and evacuated the ferry as a precaution at about 9:30 p.m. Friday.

He said that some of the water used for boundary cooling had found its way to the bilges, causing the ship to tilt, and threatening its stability.

The vehicle of the environmental response team at the site Saturday. (CBC/Tony Davis)

“There was a decision made that the ongoing firefighting efforts really were not productive in terms of boundary cooling,” Cormier said.

“The captain and the authorities and agencies all agreed we should evacuate the ship. So currently there’s nobody on board.”

Cormier said in the afternoon it was believed the fire was still contained in the engine room and funnels of the ship. He said water may have to be pumped out of the bilges, which may cause some residual oil to spill out.

Northumberland Ferries has called in an environmental response team “as a precaution” that’s now on site.

Efforts to extinguish fire to continue at port

Northumberland Ferries says firefighting efforts will resume once the ship is moved closer to port. (CBC/Tony Davis)

It said the Canadian Coast Guard monitored the situation throughout the night and is still there. A tugboat with firefighting capabilities has been applying boundary cooling to the sides of the ship and car decks.

The ship was moved slightly on Friday to deeper water so that the tug could operate properly. It also cleared the way for the MV Confederation, the company’s other vessel.

Cormier said the plan is to move the MV Holiday Island to the Wood Islands harbour during high tide and to deal with any remaining fire there. He said that could possibly happen on Sunday.

Four Transportation Safety Board of Canada staff have been deployed to investigate the fire.

The TSB said the investigators will be interviewing witnesses and collecting data. It said they will only board the ferry if it’s ruled to be safe.

Company working on accommodations

Don Cormier, vice-president of Northumberland Ferries. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In the meantime, Northumberland Ferries said the company will be working with customers to return them home “as quickly as possible,” or to extend temporary accommodations.

Cormier said workers who were on leave, and even some who had retired or moved on from the company, have returned to help.

Buses have been mobilized for passengers living in Atlantic Canada. Some have already been picked up. Cormier said they’re also working with those living outside the region to work out the logistics of their return.

He said it’s been difficult to find accommodations because of the season. But that those who are paying out of pocket will be reimbursed. There is also an allowance for meals and incidental expenditures.

The company is also working to transfer the prescriptions and deliver medication to five passengers who left them in their vehicles.

‘It wasn’t the day we planned’

Mary Clark-Touesnard suffered a minor injury in her arm while being evacuated from the ferry. (CBC/Tony Davis)

Passenger Mary Clark-Touesnard said her sister left a prescription behind and had to sort out with her pharmacy how to get a refill in P.E.I.

“[We’ve been] buying some clothing because … all of our luggage, all of our belongings, were in the vehicle,” she said. “It wasn’t the day we planned.”

Though all passengers were evacuated safely and no serious injuries were reported, both Clark-Touesnard and her sister suffered bruises and abrasions from going down the chute.

“I’m thankful that it didn’t turn out to be worse than it was,” she said. “So a little tired, kind of disappointed, worried about the vehicle and all of our belongings, but overall happy that nobody was badly injured.”

The sisters have decided to stay with family while waiting to see if their vehicle can be recovered. They had plans to leave on Sunday but aren’t sure now.

“Of course we’re concerned [about] insurance claims,” Clark-Touesnard said. “Nothing like that gets resolved quickly.” 

There are 83 vehicles on the ship. Cormier said that if the vehicles aren’t recoverable, the company would “undoubtedly” have to deal with claims for compensation.

“Our insurance company and our company will respond to all of those claims and customer needs,” he said. “Certainly we care about customers and we want to … in view of the circumstances, make the best out of what’s obviously a terrible situation.”

No longer smoke from vessel

Cormier said that an update on the resumption of services will be provided Sunday afternoon.

He said that it is too soon to speculate on the cause of the fire.

“All I can say is that the ship is very well maintained and it’s premature to speculate on what the root cause may have been,” he said.

Late Saturday, Cormier said there was no longer smoke coming from the ferry but that didn’t mean the fire was out.

“It is not safe to have anyone onboard or open engine room spaces,” he said. “For safety reasons, we will monitor.”

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