PORTLAND, Maine — Nova Star Cruises will end its sailing season in October, three weeks earlier than planned, as a result of a low volume of motor coach tours.
The company said in a statement Monday that its final sail date will be Oct. 13, leaving that night from Portland to stay in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, for the winter.
“For the long-term success of the service, we have decided to end our first season earlier than planned and will focus our efforts on building business for next year,” Mark Amundsen, president and CEO of Nova Star Cruises, said in a prepared statement.
The company said the move affects 650 passengers who had booked trips between Oct. 14 and the original final sailing date of Nov. 2. Those passengers will receive full refunds and be offered either a free reservation for this year or a 50 percent discount for the same booking during the 2015 sailing season.
With a little more than a month left, the service has carried less than half of the 100,000 bookings Amundsen projected in November 2013. To date, the ferry has carried more than 45,000 passengers.
The company said timing of its selection to operate the service prevented it from booking many motor coach tours, which require notice one to two years in advance. This year, the company said it booked 23 motor coach tours and has already booked 31 for 2015.
The company had a rough start to its inaugural season, receiving federal permits required to start booking reservations later than expected. The federal permits required financial assurances that the company could pay back the fares of trips not completed.
The company met those requirements and other operating cost demands through 2014 by calling on Nova Scotia to advance all of a $21 million loan that was to be given out incrementally over seven years. The service had in the first season spent all of that money and has not yet secured a $5 million line of credit from a U.S. financial institution.
Nova Scotia’s top economic development official has sought a meeting with Maine Gov. Paul LePage about that line of credit, which LePage previously said he would help the company secure in Maine.
Amundsen told the Chronicle Herald Monday that talks continue with Maine but there are no new developments in receiving state help for a line of credit. In June, a spokesman for the Finance Authority of Maine said the quasi-public business financing agency was in talks about providing a line of credit to the cruise line.
The company said it is in discussions with provincial officials in Nova Scotia about start and end dates for the 2015 season and will begin seeking winter work opportunities and other locations to lay-up after it concludes the season.
Amundsen said the company will also seek to refine its business model heading into the next season.
“We are pleased with passenger feedback and numbers for our first season, which highlight that there is a growing market for a cruise-ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine,” said Amundsen. “We have also learned a lot about the market for our service and will work to make adjustments to our offering and schedule for the long-term viability of the service.”