PORTLAND — A Maine company could be ferrying passengers and vehicles across the Gulf of Maine by next year, after winning a competitive bidding process begun by Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia officials on Tuesday announced that the province would begin negotiations with STM Quest, based in Eliot, to restart ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, N.S., a link lost in 2009 when Bay Ferries Ltd. ceased operating its high-speed ferry, The Cat.
If the negotiations are successful, STM Quest would introduce Portland harbor to the Nova Star, a 161-meter long ship that has a capacity to carry 1,250 passengers and 300 vehicles. The Nova Star was originally built to ferry passengers and vehicles across the English Channel. It’s currently at dock in Singapore, where it was built.
STM Quest is a partnership between Maine’s Quest Navigation and Singapore-based shipbuilder ST Marine Ltd., which built the Nova Star. STM Quest would contract with International Shipping Partners, an experienced ferry operator based in Miami, to run Nova Star Cruises.
“We are pleased to be invited to negotiate the terms for a mutually beneficial agreement with the province of Nova Scotia,” Mark Amundsen, Quest’s CEO, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to launching the Nova Star Cruises ferry service beginning in 2014, and we are committed to providing a world-class cruise ferry service for generations to come.”
He directed any further questions to Nova Scotia officials.
In September 2012, Nova Scotia committed $21 million over seven years to help subsidize ferry service across the Gulf of Maine.
Three companies submitted bids to restart the ferry service. STM Quest was the only company with a Maine connection to bid on the project. The other competing companies were Miami-based Balearia Caribbean Ltd., a subsidiary of Spanish company Balearia, and Dover, England-based P&O Ferries.
Nova Scotia set up a team of representatives from the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership and government officials to evaluate the competing bids based on financial stability, a management structure with expertise and a history of managing successful ferry services, and tourism and marketing experience.
“We’ve said all along that the province would support a ferry with the right business model and the right partners,” Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s minister of economic and rural development and tourism, said in a statement. “We are very close to having a ferry service that will stand on its own, a service that can be successful and profitable, that families of Southwest Nova Scotia can count on well into the future.”
In late July, Gov. Paul LePage threw his support behind STM Quest’s bid. In a letter to Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, LePage said he wanted to “formally declare” his support for the company’s proposal, and confirmed that the state would provide it with financial and marketing assistance to help the ferry service succeed.
“Since 2009, Nova Scotia and Maine have missed a critical link between our citizens and economies,” LePage said in a statement released Tuesday. “On behalf of the people of Maine, we would welcome restoration of this vital service and economic driver.”
This is the second competitive bid process Nova Scotia officials have overseen. Last fall, it issued a request for proposals that only garnered two submissions — one from Quest Navigation and the other from Baltimore-based engineering firm Maritime Applied Physics Corp., which has an office in Brunswick. In March, Nova Scotia officials said neither proposal met the province’s minimum criteria and launched a new procurement process.
Quest’s first proposal involved a partnership with Maritime Holdings Group, a Florida-based ferry operator that operates ferries in the Caribbean. That company is no longer is involved with the proposal.
Quest Navigation, which has submitted a proposal to operate a new ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, recently signed a long-term charter agreement to operate a 1,215-passenger ship, to be christened the Nova Star if the company’s proposal is successful.