By Jaymie White
Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
PORT AUX BASQUES — On Saturday, October 22, Marine Atlantic held a meeting for its annual business review. Gary O’Brien, Chairman of the Board of Marine Atlantic, Murray Hupman, President and CEO of Marine Atlantic, and Shawn Leaman, Vice President of Finance, introduced the meeting.
The review offered highlights on safety, human resources, environment, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility, while taking a particular look at innovation, service to customers and financial overview.
Over the past year, Marine Atlantic has experienced its share of challenges with the pandemic, washouts on the southwest coast in 2021, and most recently Hurricane Fiona, but Darrell Mercer, Director of Corporate Communications, said they had been able to pivot to keep operations running smoothly.
“The washout on the southwest coast last fall was a very significant event because it cut the southwest coast for a period of about a week. From our perspective, we had two different regions that we We had the southwest coast, which was isolated to itself, and we also had the rest of the island, which required the goods that passed through Port aux Basques daily and connected to the Trans-Canada Highway,” explained Mercer: “So when we looked at our contingency plans, we reactivated the Argentia service, but we did a triangle route. We went from North Sydney to Port aux Basques to Argentia and then back to North Sydney. What this allowed us to do was bring goods into the Port aux Basques area for residents of the southwest coast who were cut off from the rest of the island and then we were able to ship as well products in Argentia to the rest of the island. It was the first time we implemented the triangular route, and it worked well.
Contingency plans were also in place before Fiona and they were also able to coordinate with the city to donate some of their supplies to help in the aftermath.
“We have put additional mooring lines on our vessels in addition to our automated mooring systems. We did our preparatory activities at the terminal to make sure our drainage systems were working well. All loose items were secured and with that we got through this storm with minimal damage,” Mercer explained. “When the storm passed Saturday morning in Port aux Basques, we were back in service Sunday noon. So there was an impact on our schedule, but from an infrastructure perspective we did very well, especially looking at some of the areas of Port aux Basques that suffered this devastation with the storm surge.
Mercer said weather events are definitely impacting Marine Atlantic’s service.
“We see the storms coming in much more frequently now. These are more severe storms, and it could be a winter storm or a fall hurricane, but we’re starting to see them happening more and more often. From a climate change perspective, we are certainly experiencing more severe weather events and that is something we are preparing for in the future.
Despite the storms, Mercer said the past year has been positive.
“When we look at 2020 and 2021 traffic, there was a significant drop from the pre-COVID periods, and that was basically due to the travel regulations that were in place. People didn’t want to travel because of the risk of COVID, so we had a really tough two years,” Mercer said. “As we started to move into the March period, when the travel restrictions started to ease, we started to see more bookings on our service. Then the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the Year of Homecoming activities and we saw more bookings associated with that. »
Marine Atlantic saw a significant uptick starting in 2019, a pre-COVID period.
“The analysis we’re doing right now is, was it a blow just because all of these factors fell into place? We’re coming out of COVID. We’ve had a year of coming home, and people had pent-up demand for travel, or will this be a longer-term play.As we look to 2023, inflation is one element that is going to influence people’s choice of travel.The price of fuel will influence the people’s decision as to whether they want to travel,” Mercer said. “We’re watching this closely to see what that translates to for travel, 2022 has been a good year for our service when we look at traffic numbers , and now it remains to be seen what this will translate into. for the next year.
The numbers are still strong for fall 2022 bookings.
“In the spring we announced the 22% discount and it was in association with the year of coming home, but what we did was we also implemented it for the period of autumn. Thus, trips in October were also subject to a reduction of 22%. What we’ve seen is a desire, again, for more people to travel for the fall season,” Mercer said. “The latest numbers we have show an increase of about 5% over the 2019 numbers, so that’s still a pretty big increase for the fall season.”
Also mentioned were upcoming infrastructure plans for Marine Atlantic, which include the new Port aux Basques administration building and the new vessel, both of which are expected to be completed by 2024.
“We are currently doing due diligence on contract awards, so hopefully that will be in place in the not-too-distant future,” Mercer said. “We are considering the period 2024-2025 for the ship. In fact, we recently received an update indicating that construction activities at the site will begin on November 1st. So next week we’ll start to see all the modules start coming together to form the ship. Obviously this will be a long process over the next 18 months or so, but it is an important step as the ship will begin to take shape.
Marine Atlantic also has improvement projects in the port of Port aux Basques.
“One of the things we have been working on over the past few years is the potential withdrawal of Vardy Island. From a security point of view, the island is in the middle of the harbor and our ships have to navigate around this island. It becomes more problematic when we go through periods of high winds, for example, so we looked at what the potential would be for removing that island,” Mercer explained. “We have had initial consultations in the region with various groups to let them know what our plans are. We are unable to move forward at this time. We own the island. We took possession of this island in the last fiscal year, and we are now preparing plans to present to the Government of Canada where we could hopefully obtain funds to remove the island, but before we go through this process , we would have consultations in the region, outline our plans, go through an environmental assessment. So we still have a lot to do before we can finalize this project. »
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News