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PORTLAND, Maine — One of the two companies vying to return ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, says it has leased a ship and could, if awarded the contract, begin offering ferry service as early as this summer.
Quest Navigation, based in Eliot, is one of only two companies that met Nova Scotia’s Jan. 24 deadline to submit a proposal to restart the ferry service. The other company is the Baltimore-based engineering firm Maritime Applied Physics Corp., which also has an office in Brunswick.
Nova Scotia in September 2012 committed $21 million over seven years to help subsidize ferry service across the Gulf of Maine, which was lost at the end of 2009 when Bay Ferries Ltd. ceased operating The Cat, a high-speed ferry, because of tough economic conditions.
“The evaluation process is under way. We expect to have a decision to share soon,” Percy Paris, the province’s minister of economic and rural development, wrote Monday in a statement to the Bangor Daily News.
Paris and a spokeswoman declined to comment on specifics of either proposal until the evaluation process is complete.
“The province remains committed to investing up to $21 million over seven years in a cruise ferry if an operator can be found and the federal government provides support,” Paris said in the statement. “The potential operator must have a sound business plan showing a ferry service that will be sustainable within seven years.”
Quest’s CEO, Mark Amundsen, said based on his research and business plans his company could have a sustainable ferry service after a single year.
Amundsen, a 1981 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, has 30 years of experience in the marine transportation field, including a stint as director of ship repair for Irving Shipbuilding in Canada.
His vision for a Portland-to-Yarmouth ferry service “combines seasonal passenger service and commercial vehicle service,” he wrote Monday in a statement sent to the Bangor Daily News.
“We have generated interest from commercial carriers for year-round transportation of trailers,” he said. “We believe the combination of tourism passenger service and commercial vehicles makes the ferry service a viable and sustainable business.”
Charles Colgan, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, has said the previous Portland-to-Yarmouth ferry service was always an important transportation option for commercial freight and vehicles moving from the Canadian Maritime Provinces to New England.
“The commercial vehicle side of this was almost more important at times than the vacation travelers,” Colgan previously told the BDN.
Dennis Bailey, a public relations expert working with Quest, said “due to Quest’s unique business plan, which incorporates passenger service with commercial vehicle service, its proposal does not call for additional financial contributions from Nova Scotia beyond first-year startup costs.”
Based on Nova Scotia’s tentative offer to contribute $21 million over seven years, which would break down to $3 million a year, Bailey said Quest’s plan would not need “a financial contribution from the government beyond the first year.” Though, he said, “much will depend on negotiations if Quest is the qualified bidder.”
Amundsen declined to offer further specifics on his company’s proposal, such as whether offering ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, would ever be considered. But he did say his company has already signed a long-term charter agreement with a $165 million ship that would — if Quest receives the contract — ferry passengers and vehicles across the Gulf of Maine.
The ship, to be christened the Nova Star, is 161 meters long, can carry 1,215 passengers and was originally built to ferry passengers and vehicles across the English Channel. The ship’s amenities include a casino, two restaurants, four bars, a retail area, and a movie theater, according to Quest’s website.
Quest has an “exclusive 5-year charter with purchase options at the conclusion of the charter period,” Amundsen said in a statement.
While Amundsen’s company doesn’t have experience operating a ferry service, he has contracted with Maritime Holdings Group, a Florida-based ferry operator that currently operates several ferries in the Caribbean, to manage the crew and hotel operations on the Nova Star.
“We’ve spent a great deal of time researching and analyzing the market and we’ve built strong marketing strategic partnerships in order to execute our plan quickly,” Amundsen said.
A call to Richard Frost, the Brunswick-based business development manager at Maritimes Applied Physics Corp., the other company vying for the ferry service contract, was not returned Monday.
While Nova Scotia has offered $21 million to subsidize the ferry service, Portland has said it does not plan to offer financial incentives to restart the service. Though Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city plans to be an active member in negotiations to return a ferry operator to Portland’s waterfront.