The Nova Star, a ship Quest Navigation says it's secured a long-term charter agreement on for ferry service between Canada and Maine.
"The evaluation committee made a recommendation that neither one of the two proposals be accepted. And on staff analysis, staff agreed with the recommendation that came forward," Percy Paris says.
Citing a confidentiality agreement, Paris wouldn't say specifically where the two bids fell short. But a report issued in September by a panel of experts, said that in order to be viable in the long-term, a cruise service must provide a high-quality on-board experience supported with a sophisticated marketing strategy.
The panel said it's also important for the winning bidder to "leverage a strong tourist experience in southwest Nova Scotia."
Paris says the province will launch a new procurement process this spring, focusing on a 2014 start date. "We will be reaching out to ferry operators all over the world and encouraging those that didn't submit a proposal to submit one," he says. "And certainly anyone that has submitted a proposal, they're going to be encouraged to submit another one as well."
"It"s unfortunate to hear that the bids were rejected," says Drew Morris, spokesman for Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development. "But we do understand it's an important decision and certainly requires careful thought if this kind of service is going to be viable for the long-term."
Also disappointed was Mark Amundsen, CEO of Quest Navigation, based in Eliot, Maine. Quest was one of the two companies that were bidding for the contract.
Amundsen put out a statement saying that, despite the setback, the company remains confident that its plan to re-establish a ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland, Maine, is the best option. He says Quest will meet with Nova Scotia officials in the coming weeks and determine what to do next.
The other company bidding for the service was Maritime Applied Physics Corporation of Baltimore, which also has offices in Brunswick, Maine.
The company's business development manager, Richard Frost, says that while he was disappointed, he was not surprised at Nova Scotia's decision. "We were proposing an unusual alternative, which was a hydrofoil ferry," he says. "And rather than the large car ferry, which we thought was probably not going to be economically viable, we proposed adding smaller vessels gradually, so that as ridership increased we could increase the carrying capacity of the boats."
The last ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia came to an end four years ago, hit by rising fuel prices and declining tourism. The high-speed Cat service to Bar Harbor was costing the Canadian province an untenable nearly $7 million a year in subsidies. A service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland came to an end in 2004.
Nova Scotia's Percy Paris says up to $21 million in provincial subsidies are available over seven years for the successful bidder, but he doubts that will be enough to make the numbers work.
"In order for this to be viable, in order for this to be sustainable, we would like to see all levels of government involved, and we would also like to see the U.S. government have a hand in this as well," Paris says.
Paris says while Maine remains the likely destination of a new ferry service, he points out that the state has not pledged any financial support for the project, so if a port elsewhere comes up with an offer, a different plan might emerge.
Photo courtesy of Quest Navigation.