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Ferry delayed by mechanical trouble

The MV Highlanders enters Port aux Basques harbour. A mechanical issue forced the ferry’s temporary removal from service. – File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — Over the past few weeks, there has been a noticeable increase in traffic parked at the Marine Atlantic terminal, as the MV Highlanders had to be taken out of service for repair. “We’ve had two mechanical issues with the Highlanders over the past couple of weeks. Approximately two weeks ago the Highlanders developed an issue with its main engine. The vessel was returned to North Sydney during the crossing and the technicians diagnosed it as having some technical issues with some of the wiring that’s part of the engine,” explained Darrell Mercer, Corporate Communications Manager with Marine Atlantic. “They did undertake repairs at that point in time. They did some tests and the vessel responded well to the tests, so the vessel re-entered service. A couple of days later, a similar type problem occurred to the vessel. It again returned to North Sydney during its crossing and technicians took a deeper dive into the issue to find out what the root cause was.” It didn’t take technicians long to discover and repair the problem. “What they found was a faulty connector and ground cable going into the main engine. It took a couple of days to not only identify the issue, but to source the parts and then rectify the problem, and then the vessel returned to service this Thursday past (March 2).” Mercer said that Marine Atlantic likes to be prepared at all times in case something like this happens. “We have technical teams that are always on standby when issues are raised, so they go through their troubleshooting process, and we recognize that the inconvenience in taking a vessel out (of service) is difficult for our customers, so what we did at that point in time is crew up the Leif Ericson, which is usually in standby mode this time of year, and the Leif Ericson entered the schedule.” By bringing the Leif Ericson into service, Marine Atlantic was able to maintain its two-vessel schedule. “We still recognized that the Leif Ericson is a smaller vessel and cannot carry as much commercial traffic as what the Highlanders could, but we did have it scheduled in order to keep the traffic moving between the two provinces.” Getting the necessary parts for the repair was relatively simple. “In this circumstance the parts were sourced in Halifax, so fairly close to the vessel in North Sydney. So we managed to get those parts quickly, get them to North Sydney, and then the technicians could enact the repairs that were required,” said Mercer. “It’s difficult to say how the supply chain will impact any given issue that we could face. We do it on a case by case basis, and it’s our hope that the parts that are required would be readily available nearby when we need them.” Traffic was noted to be quite high in North Sydney during the time when the Highlanders was out of service, and Mercer explained that is to be expected. “Commercial traffic primarily travels first-come-first-serve. When they arrive at the terminal, they’re given a sequence number of when they’ll go on the vessel and that’s all recorded into our system. Why there was a bit of a backlog in this situation was the Highlanders came out of service and we missed a couple of crossings as we were trying to crew up the Leif Ericson to enter service,” said Mercer. “All of that traffic that was coming to Newfoundland and Labrador was in North Sydney waiting for that crossing, so we were a crossing behind to move that traffic and you could start to see that little bit of a build up.” Aside from delayed customers, Marine Atlantic must consider additional factors when adjusting its schedule whenever a ferry has to be unexpectedly taken out of service. “Number one, we have to look at how we can move the most traffic as quickly as possible. If we have a restricted commercial crossing, for example, we may have to look at how that will fit with the traffic vibes that are in the ports. So it may be more effective to change the crossing from a dangerous crossing, which would limit the number of passengers that could go on the vessel, to an unrestricted crossing which would allow us to take more trucks, more passengers, on a single crossing,” said Mercer. “We have to balance that out and it’s also the time of year where we normally have two vessels in operation. So when we have to bring in the Leif Ericson, for example, we always have to try to find the crew to crew the vessel, which takes significant effort as well.” A lot of this work isn’t necessarily witnessed by their customers. “Behind the scenes, what people don’t see are all the efforts being made by our terminal staff, who are loading the vessel, trying to manage all the traffic that arrives, our crew calling employees who are trying to make contact with staff, trying to get them to be able to crew. We have our reservations teams who field the calls from customers who have uncertainty about how the changes will impact them. There is significant work that takes place behind the scenes and, through all of those efforts, the number one goal is to try to get our customers to their destination as quickly and efficiently as possible as per their requirements.” Marine Atlantic tries its best to inform customers about delays. “What we do is, whenever we have a potential impact, we put that up on our website. Just because there is a potential impact doesn’t always mean there is going to be a cancellation, but we always try to give as much advance notice as possible to our customers that we’re watching or monitoring a weather system that is coming through, for example,” said Mercer. “Our captains, when we get closer to the actual departure time and date, they’ll make a decision, and if that’s a cancellation, we will send that directly to our customers who have bookings, to let them know and give them our revised crossing time. That’s continuously updated on our website and we also put it out on social media, just another avenue to communicate to customers.”

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