Vehicles cannot be salvaged after burning the MV Holiday Island

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

Northumberland Ferries announced Friday evening that ferry service between Caribou, Nova Scotia and Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island will be canceled for a second day due to the emergency at MV Holiday Island. He said in an update Saturday morning that all crossings would also be canceled until Sunday.

On Saturday, passengers were told by Northumberland Ferries via text message that the company was unsure whether the vehicles on board could be recovered and that the fire was still burning.

“[We] cannot determine with certainty whether there will possibly be any damage to the vehicles. At this time, we don’t believe there is a lot of damage,” said Don Cormier, company vice president.

“Our intention is to tow the vessel to port and, yes, unload the vehicles. But we think that will take time.”

The smoke rises again

Smoke could still be seen billowing from the ferry heading for Prince Edward Island Saturday noon, almost a full day after a fire broke out in the ship’s engine room.

Cormier said crew and firefighters ended onboard efforts to extinguish the fire and evacuated the ferry as a precaution around 9:30 p.m. Friday.

He said some of the water used for boundary cooling had ended up in the holds, causing the ship to tilt and threatening its stability.

The Environmental Response Team vehicle at the site on Saturday. (Radio Canada/Tony Davis)

“It was decided that the ongoing firefighting efforts were really not productive in terms of boundary cooling,” Cormier said.

“The captain and the authorities and agencies have all agreed that we should evacuate the ship. So currently there is no one on board.”

Cormier said the fire is believed to be still contained within the ship’s engine room and funnels. He said water might have to be pumped out of the holds, which could result in residual oil spilling.

Northumberland Ferries has called in an environmental response team “as a precaution” which is now on site.

Efforts to extinguish the fire continue at the port

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

He said the Canadian Coast Guard monitored the situation throughout the night and is still there. A tug is also waiting.

The vessel was moved slightly to deeper water on Friday so the tug could operate properly. It also paved the way for the MV Confédération, the company’s other ship.

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

Four employees from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada were deployed to investigate the fire.

The TSB said investigators will interview witnesses and collect data. He said they would only board the ferry if it was deemed safe.

Company working on hosting

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

In the meantime, Northumberland Ferries said the company would work with customers to get them home “as quickly as possible” or extend temporary accommodation.

Cormier said workers who were furloughed, and even some who had retired or left the company, came back to help.

Buses have been mobilized for passengers living in Atlantic Canada. Some have already been recovered. Cormier said they are also working with those living outside the region to organize the logistics of their return.

He said it was difficult to find accommodation because of the season. But that those who pay out of pocket will be reimbursed. There is also an allowance for meals and incidental expenses.

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

Cormier said if the vehicles are not salvageable, the company will “undoubtedly” face compensation claims.

“Our insurance company and our company will respond to all these claims and all customer needs,” he said. “Certainly, we care about the customers and we want…instead of the circumstances, to make the best of what is obviously a terrible situation.”

Cormier said ferry service may be suspended beyond the weekend.

He said it’s too early to speculate what may have caused the fire.

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