Vehicles may not be recovered from burning MV Holiday Island

Ferry service between PEI and Nova Scotia has been suspended for the weekend as the fire forced more than 200 passengers and staff to evacuate the MV Holiday Island on Friday continues to burn.

Northumberland Ferries announced Friday evening the ferry service between Caribou, NS, and Wood Islands, PEI, would be canceled for a second day due to the emergency situation at the MV Holiday Island. It said in an update Saturday morning that all crossings would also be canceled through Sunday.

On Saturday, passengers were told by Northumberland Ferries via text message that the company isn’t sure whether vehicles on board can be recovered and that fire was still burning.

“[We] can’t with any certainty determine whether there will be eventually be any sort of damage to vehicles. Right now, we don’t believe there’s a lot of damage,” said Don Cormier, the company’s vice-president.

“Our attempt is to tow the vessel back to port and, yes, discharge vehicles. But we think that it will take time.”

smoke still rising

As of Saturday noon, smoke could still be seen billowing from the ferry that was headed to PEI, almost a full day after a fire broke out from the vessel’s engine room.

Cormier said crew and firefighters ended onboard efforts to extinguish the fire and evacuated the ferry as a precaution at about 9:30 pm Friday.

He said that some of the water used for boundary cooling had found its way to the bilges, causing the ship to tilt, and threatening its stability.

The vehicle of the environmental response team at the site Saturday. (CBC/Tony Davis)

“There was a decision made that the ongoing firefighting efforts really were not productive in terms of boundary cooling,” Cormier said.

“The captain and the authorities and agencies all agreed we should evacuate the ship. So currently there’s nobody on board.”

Cormier said it is believed the fire is still contained in the engine room and funnels of the ship. He said water may have to be pumped out of the bilges, which may cause some residual oil to spill out.

Northumberland Ferries has called in an environmental response team “as a precaution” that’s now on site.

Efforts to extinguish fire to continue at port

Northumberland Ferries says firefighting efforts will resume once the ship is moved closer to port. (CBC/Tony Davis)

It said the Canadian Coast Guard monitored the situation throughout the night and is still there. A tugboat is also standing by.

The ship was moved slightly on Friday to deeper water so that the tug could operate properly. She also cleared the way for the MV Confederation, the company’s other vessel.

Cormier said the plan is to move the Holiday Island to port to continue firefighting efforts. He said that could possibly happen on Sunday.

Four Transportation Safety Board of Canada staff have been deployed to investigate the fire.

The TSB said the investigators will be interviewing witnesses and collecting data. It said they will only board the ferry if it’s ruled to be safe.

Company working on accommodations

Don Cormier, vice-president of Northumberland Ferries. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In the meantime, Northumberland Ferries said the company will be working with customers to return them home “as quickly as possible,” or to extend temporary accommodations.

Cormier said workers who were on leave, and even some who had retired or moved on from the company, have returned to help.

Buses have been mobilized for passengers living in Atlantic Canada. Some have already been picked up. Cormier said they’re also working with those living outside the region to work out the logistics of their return.

He said it’s been difficult to find accommodations because of the season. But that those who are paying out of pocket will be reimbursed. There is also an allowance for meals and incidental expenditures.

The company is also working to transfer the prescriptions and deliver medication to five passengers who left them in their vehicles.

Cormier said that if the vehicles aren’t recoverable, the company would “undoubtedly” have to deal with compensation claims.

“Our insurance company and our company will respond to all of those claims and customer needs,” he said. “Certainly we care about customers and we want to … in lieu of the circumstances, make the best out of what’s obviously a terrible situation.”

Cormier said that it is possible ferry service could be suspended beyond the weekend.

He said that it is too soon to speculate on what may have caused the fire.

“All I can say is that the ship is very well maintained and it’s premature to speculate on what the root cause may have been,” he said.

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