Nova Star, nearly $800K in debt, seized as Canadians negotiate new ferry service to Portland

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PORTLAND — The debt-riddled Nova Star is anchored under court-ordered “arrest” in Portland Harbor, as the government of Nova Scotia seeks a new ferry service operator.

Two seasons after the car ferry resurrected service to Canada with daily trips to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the 528-foot ship that could accommodate 1,250 passengers was seized by order of U.S. District Court of Maine Magistrate John Rich III in lieu of payment of $196,000 to the Portland Pilots.

The company provided harbor pilots for the ferry between the Ocean Gateway Terminal and an offshore pilot station near Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, according to the court complaint.

Portland Pilots said the company stopped paying the $3,200 pilotage rate on Aug. 16.

On Monday, Texas-based World Fuel Services asked the court to award it more than $491,000 for unpaid fuel invoices of $461,000 dating to August, plus interest and legal fees.

Nova Star Cruises spokesman Dennis Bailey said the debts will be paid.

“Nova Star Cruises has paid most of its supplier costs. We plan to pay all our suppliers as we have done over the past two seasons,” he said.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin on Monday said the company also owes the city $97,000 in lease payments for September and October, including fees based on passenger and vehicle counts, rents and berthing and parking fees. Overall, the lease was supposed to generate almost $338,000 for the city this year.

The court complaints followed an Oct. 29 announcement by Geoff MacLellan, Nova Scotia minister of transportation and infrastructure renewal, that his department will negotiate with Nova Scotia-based Bay Ferries Ltd. to continue the Yarmouth-to-Portland trips.

Bay Ferries operated ferry service using the high-speed Cat until 2009. That ship has since been sold.

“Bay Ferries Ltd. has the experience, expertise, industry relationships and much of the operational infrastructure already in place, such as a reservations system, that would allow them to hit the ground running. There will be a service out of Yarmouth for 2016,” MacLellan said in a press release.

The company was one of four, including Nova Star Cruises, that sought the contract.

Once an agreement is reached in Nova Scotia, Bay Ferries will also have to reach agreement with Portland on a lease at the Ocean Gateway Terminal.

In an Oct. 29 press release, City Manager Jon Jennings welcomed the return of Bay Ferries.

“We’d like to thank the (Nova Scotia) government for their commitment to the ferry, and we are pleased that they have chosen an operator that has experience in providing this service,” Jennings said.

When ferry service was resumed in May 2014, Bailey said Nova Star hoped to draw 100,000 passengers its first year. But in the two years of service, the ferry drew 59,000 and then 52,000 passengers.

The company, headed by Maine Maritime Academy graduate Mark Amundsen, brought the ferry to Portland from Singapore. It was built in 2010 to serve ports in the English Channel. After the Portland-Yarmouth service was launched, plans to serve other ports in the off-season never came to fruition.

At the outset, the Nova Scotia government pledged $21 million in subsidies for the service. It ended up spending $41.5 million, including $13 million this year, according to financial documents.

Before the Nova Star and Cat services, the city was linked by sea to Nova Scotia by the Prince of Fundy, Bolero, Caribe, Marine Evangeline and, more recently, the Scotia Prince.

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

The Nova Star sits in Casco Bay on Monday. It will not continue its service to Nova Scotia and was ordered seized by the U.S. District Court of Maine because of unpaid debts.

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.