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Protests erupt over ferry service on Fogo Island and Change Islands


CHANGE ISLANDS, NL – Small children, the elderly and those ill and in need of medications were among the stranded on Change Islands last Thursday, June 29.

People too to sleeping in their cars and huddled in the terminal as they tried to avoid the chill of the 7-degree temperatures. 

The 6 p.m. and 8:30 pm runs to Fogo Island and Change Islands on the MV Legionnaire were cancelled. It was then, says Change Islands resident Andrew Danson Danushevsky, that the chaos erupted. 

“There was a protest on Fogo, so when it (the ferry) finally got to Farewell the Captain decided to tie up,” Danushevsky told The Pilot. “The Change Islanders started to protest and they were joined by Fogo Islanders.”

Upset with the decision to berth, prospective passengers lined themselves and their cars in front of the vessel to prevent others from debarking. Danushevsky says RCMP officers were dispatched to negotiate with the protesters. 

"There was an incident Wednesday evening in Farewell, that in turn had a kind of trickle down effect," Cpl. Shaun Coady told The Pilot. "Unfortunately that meant Thursdays schedule was affected, pushed forward, because of the mandatory hours of rest for the crew."

The RCMP said in all four blockades occurred. The first Wednesday evening in Farewell, another on Fogo Island Thursday, and then again in Farewell Thursday evening when passengers attempted to debark the vessel. 

The final blockade Friday, on Change Islands, was brief and resolved by the crew says Coady. 

Danushevsky says the protests are the result of long simmering frustration with the ferry service, not just the issues of the day.  

He describes older ferries, fraught with mechanical issues, and he describes the new ferry, designed — in theory — to replace and alleviate the transportation issues. In practice it has replaced the old ferry, however Danushevsky says it has not alleviated the mechanical issues but replaced those with new problems. 

Fogo Island-Cape Freels MHA Derrick Bragg commented on the issue through social media last week. 

“For the past two years we have been dealing with disruption in the ferry service. We have a new boat that has been riddled with issues,” Bragg wrote in a social media post. “The last 72 hours has taxed everyone to a breaking point. Emotions are high and frustration levels have peaked.”

The Thursday protest that occurred on Fogo Island was prompted by an issue with the loading doors, says Danushevsky. Passengers were forced to back vehicles off the ship when debarking. The resulting delay prompted the Fogo Island protest, with the lost time forcing the vessel to berth in Farewell.  

At their limit for in-service hours, the crew could no longer legally operate the service. With rest or replacement of the crew the only option, the lines were tied.

“The Captain didn’t want to talk to us, he sent down the first mate,” said Danushevsky. “But all we wanted to do was get inside the heated ferry to keep warm, and they said, ‘No you can’t do it, it’s a liability issue.'" 

The RCMP acted as negotiators says Coady, an attempt to the open lines of communication and promote understanding.

"Fortunately we were pretty successful," said Coady. "It seemed like most of the protest issue really revolved around communication. So when we got on scene we were able to speak to the crew and bring the information that we learned to the protesters."  

Danushevsky says the cycle would repeat itself again the following evening. With no relief crew on hand Friday, June 30, he says the Captain attempted to leave some of passengers on Change Islands on the last run. Passengers, united in their frustration, threatened another protest, resulting in the Captain “eventually,” agreeing to take all passengers, says Danushevsky, ending the brief protest.

“You see the last ferry is obligated to take everyone from Change Islands,” said Danushevsky. “Here was the last run, and the Captain decided only to take 15 vehicles instead of all that were waiting.” 

The Pilot has reached out to the Department of Transportation and Works and has been provided with the following comment.

"The MV Legionnaire is operating with a single ramp, which has extended loading and offloading times and caused delays to the ferry schedule. The Department of Transportation and Works appreciates the frustration of travellers and apologizes for any inconvenience that this might cause," read the statement from the Department.  

"On Thursday, June 29, the Legionnaire began making additional runs each day to help accommodate travellers affected by the delays. The MV Galatea is servicing the Bell Island run while repairs are being made to MV Beaumont Hamel. Those repairs are expected to be completed by tomorrow or Thursday, at which time the Galatea will then begin servicing Fogo Island/Change Islands."

The Pilot has requested an interview with Minister AL Hawkins and is awaiting response. The Pilot will provide updates as more information becomes available. 

 

Patrick.Murphy@advertisernl.ca

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