Winter is coming and, for the Government of Nunatsiavut, there is concern over whether or not all of the freight that needs to be shipped to communities in northern Labrador will come in before the service ends for the season.
The MV Astron is currently running boatloads of freight to communities along the Labrador coast.
The deadline for acceptance of freight heading North from all provincial ports — for guaranteed delivery — was Friday, Nov. 16.
According to a news release issued early this afternoon, Nunatsiavut’s First Minister Darryl Shiwak is now concerned freight meant to reach Labrador communities will be left on the dock.
“We have made numerous requests, in writing and verbally, for another vessel to complement the Astron,” Shiwak stated.
“We are at a crucial time in the year when residents and businesses in Nunatsiavut are completely dependent on goods and supplies for the winter. While the provincial government has given us a guarantee that all freight will be delivered, based on our experiences we are very concerned that this will be the case.”
Shiwak said the freight issue is tied to overall poor service to northern communities this year. “This has been one of the worst years ever for the marine service,” he stated.
“Given the situation, the Astron is doing a good job, but it can only do so much. If that vessel breaks down, or if there are delays because of weather, then we run the risk of not having essential goods and supplies shipped to our communities this winter.”
Shiwak raised the issue of marine service in mid-September, calling upon the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to decommission the passenger ferry MV Northern Ranger and find a replacement, claiming the ship is not meeting the needs of communities on its Northern run.
Transmission trouble forced the passenger ferry out of service and into an unexpected, mid-season overhaul on Sept. 4.
It is still in dry dock and, today, Shiwak repeated the call for a replacement.
While the Northern Ranger is in for repairs, the contracted service provider, CAI Nunatsiavut Marine, has paid to fly passengers to communities normally served by the ferry.
Meanwhile, the province has rejected past calls to immediately decommission the ship.
"That is a purpose-built boat. We've checked the statistics on that and it's still very viable as a boat for that coast,” said MHA Tom Hedderson, the former Minister of Transportation and Works, in September.
When in service, the Northern Ranger is scheduled to run once a week from Happy Valley-Goose Bay up to Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale, Natuashish and Nain. On weekends, it runs from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Rigolet, Cartwright and Black Tickle, according to the operator's website. Comparatively speaking, based on Census 2011 population counts, the boat provides service to an area more populated than Bell Island.
The Telegram has been told the Department of Transportation and Works is now in the process of reviewing and potential changing the freight service - the service now being completed using the MV Astron. The Astron is set to cover the work for three years while that matter is settled.
The Northern Ranger is similarly set to cover passenger service for at least the next two years.