'Cat' gets second life for Portland-Nova Scotia ferry service

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PORTLAND — Ferry service between the city and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, is expected to resume this summer, using a high-speed catamaran leased from the U.S. Navy.

The lease agreement was announced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

“Portland’s working waterfront makes a big contribution to our local economy, and ferry service to Nova Scotia is an important part of that,” Pingree said.

Shortly after the announcement, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said city officials are negotiating with Nova Scotia-based Bay Ferries Ltd. on a lease of the Ocean Gateway Terminal.

“We look forward to negotiating a lease with (Bay Ferries) that takes into consideration the city’s priorities and fits into our existing vibrant cruise ship and port activities,” City Manager Jon Jennings said.

The Nova Scotia government announced Thursday it has reached a 10-year agreement with Bay Ferries. The province will subsidize service, promotion and retrofitting of the ferry with at least $32.7 million Canadian.

A Nova Scotia press release said the ferry was built in 2007 and used for civilian service in Hawaii before its U.S. Navy service as the USNS Puerto Rico. The ferry has a capacity for 866 passengers and 282 vehicles.

Ferry service is expected to run from June 15 to Sept. 30, with departures from Yarmouth at 8 a.m. and Portland at 2:30 p.m.

Pingree and King said the ferry will be refitted at a commercial shipyard in the U.S., and will be renamed The Cat – the same name used by a Bay Ferries catamaran that previously operated between Portland and Yarmouth for three years, ending in 2009.

The original Cat replaced the Scotia Prince, a ferry that had operated for 30 years through 2005. After the original Cat stopped running, the service was discontinued until 2014, when Nova Star Cruises re-established ferry service.

But Nova Star service ended in a sea of red ink. Projected annual passenger estimates of 100,000 were not reached and a slump in the Canadian economy reduced boardings in Nova Scotia.

On Oct. 31, 2015, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the arrest of the Nova Star. The 528-foot ship sat in Portland harbor as creditors, including the city, sought more than $1 million in outstanding debt that ranged from fuel bills to the company share of expenses for terminal modifications in Portland.

In its two years of operation, the Nova Star received $41.5 million in subsidies from the Nova Scotia government.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, will resume this summer using a high-speed catamaran that will be leased from the U.S. Navy.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.