Firefighters evacuate PEI-NS ferry as fisherman, first responders rush to rescue


More than 200 people were safely evacuated from a ferry traveling from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island on Friday after a fire broke out in the ship’s engine room.

A statement from Northumberland Ferries says the fire broke out on board the MV Holiday Island around 11:00 a.m., about an hour into its voyage from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Wood Islands, PEI. -of Prince Edward Island.

“The ship’s crew and safety systems contained the fire,” Don Cormier, vice president of Northumberland Ferries, said in the statement. “The captain took the necessary precautions and dropped both anchors and steered the vessel onto a soft shoal outside the entrance to Wood Islands harbour.”

Cormier said there were no injuries to passengers or crew. The remainder of Friday’s crossings were canceled as the MV Holiday Island blocked the route of the company’s other ship, the MV Confederation.

Passengers are loaded onto Myles MacDonald’s fishing boat from the orange lifeboat structure deployed from the Holiday Island passenger deck. (Submitted by Brian Rogers)

Myles MacDonald, an auxiliary Coast Guard member who also fishes crab and scallops in Wood Islands, rushed to the scene in his boat when he learned the ferry had caught fire.

It stopped alongside Holiday Island as passengers jumped down an escape chute in a dinghy. From there they boarded his fishing boat.

“Everybody got along pretty well. It’s a miracle,” MacDonald said.

Everyone got along pretty well. It’s a miracle—Myles MacDonald

MacDonald made two shore trips carrying a total of 113 of the 225 people he said were on board.

Other rescue vessels, including the Coast Guard and Joint Rescue Coordination Center Halifax, arrived to help transport the others. Their vehicles and luggage had to be abandoned.

Virginia Clark-Druhan of Dartmouth was one of the rescued passengers.

“We were enjoying our trip and starting our vacation, looking forward to landing in Prince Edward Island, and we started to smell the smoke,” she said. “And when we came out, we looked outside. And when we looked outside, there was a pile of black smoke coming out of the engine room from the top of the chimney.”

She said the evacuation went well, with support from many different departments.

Smoke billows from NS-PEI ferry.

The ferry between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island was evacuated Friday morning after smoke was seen billowing from the ship. Video submitted by Meg Elliott.

“But, I have to say, sitting in that life raft with, like, two feet of water under our feet wasn’t ideal, that’s for sure.”

Clark-Druhan said there was “a bit of panic” from some passengers, including those with children and pets.

“Also the kids themselves were worried – lots of noise, alarm bells and so on. So, yes, it was worrying for those on board, that’s for sure.”

“Happy to be on Prince Edward Island”

She said it was heartening that they were so close to shore when the fire broke out.

“We knew help was coming. It was just a matter of being patient and waiting for things to happen. But, you know, I have to say, I’m glad to be on Prince Edward Island, walking the red route.

Shaun MacLaughlin of Westville, Nova Scotia, said he was returning to Nova Scotia from a family vacation in Prince Edward Island when he saw the fire from the field.

The view of a lifeboat as passengers are evacuated from Holiday Island. The large orange structure is an inflatable slide that took people down on a lifeboat. (Submitted by Frank Makk)

He was close enough to hear the announcements made on the MV Holiday Island as they inflated parachutes to evacuate passengers onto lifeboats, he said.

“As soon as we pulled up to the terminal…you could see a lot of thick black smoke coming from Holiday Island, which was just sitting on the dock, and the gentlemen at the stand said things weren’t right and that we should turn around,” he said.

MacLaughlin said he and his family now plan to drive home, using the Confederation Bridge at the other end of Prince Edward Island.

Fisherman called a hero

Some people call MacDonald a hero for rescuing passengers with his fishing boat.

“Absolutely not,” was his response. “Just do what you have to do.

MacDonald said many people involved in the rescue deserve credit, including the captain, deckhands and first responders.

a group of people wearing orange life jackets get off a boat and onto a wooden dock
Passengers of the MV Holiday Island are seen after being evacuated from the MV Holiday Island following a fire on the ship. (Submitted by Meg Elliott)

“It was great to see everyone working so well together…All the fire departments from Vernon River to Souris were there,” he said.

“The main thing is that everyone got out safe and sound. Everything can be replaced. Cars, trucks, boats. As long as no one gets hurt, that’s the main thing. As soon as the captain announced that all passengers were gone, it was kind of a relief.”

Prime Minister gives assurances

In a press release, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King thanked the rescue teams as well as the healthcare workers who were ready to deal with any injuries.

The ferries are owned by Transport Canada and operated by Northumberland Ferries.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was visiting Prince Edward Island on Friday, said he spoke with King and offered him assurances.

“We have been discussing how we will resume this ferry service as quickly as possible given the importance of these ferries to the tourist season here on Prince Edward Island,” Trudeau said. “Know that we are on it and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected.”