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For most people living on the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s a matter of jumping in your car, turning the key, hauling the gear stick out of Park, and you’re on your way to enjoying a few hours, days, weeks or months (depending on how fast you drive) of travelling around the island. It’s not until you actually reach Port aux Basques or Argentia that you have to decide whether or not you want your journey to continue into Nova Scotia and beyond.

To continue this trek from one of these ports, one must depend on the Marine Atlantic ferry service — a service funded by the federal government. And while there are delays due to weather, mechanical problems to one or more of the ferries, or over congestion of travellers, the federal government/Marine Atlantic continually tries their best to provide a dependable service — after all the ferry service is an important link for the entire province.

This isn’t to say there aren’t complaints, both legitimate and exaggerated.

Not to the same extent in terms of the magnitude of people affected, but just as important to those using the service on a daily basis, is the provincial government-run ferry going from Burnside to St. Brendan’s.

To the 147 people (according to the 2011 census) living on the small island of St. Brendan’s in Bonavista Bay, the ferry service is a lifeline they must depend on for food, employment, health care, entertainment, and to just get off the island for that leisurely drive around the remainder of the province or to visit family and friends.

It is their roadway to the world so to speak.

After years of worrying about this dependability because of aging vessels being used on the route, the residents finally got some reprieve about two years ago when a brand new medium-size vessel, the MV Grace Sparkes, was put on the route.

It was a time of celebration (and relief) for those travelling to and from St. Brendan’s.

That was May 5, 2011.

Fast forward to Feb. 20, 2013, and the MV Grace Sparkes pulls away from the dock in St. Brendan’s after being held there by protesters for nearly two days.

The protesters were upset the MV Grace Sparkes was heading to Bell Island to replace one of two ferries, the MV Beaumont Hamel, used on that route — this despite the fact they were told before the maiden voyage of the MV Grace Sparkes, it would not be used as what government terms a ‘swing vessel.’

In its place, the Burnside-St. Brendan’s run gets back the Sound of Islay — a 58-year-old vessel that is familiar with the waters on Bonavista Bay, but has also caused plenty of concerns of dependability for the residents of St. Brendan’s.

According to reports, the Bell Island run needs two ferries, with full crews, to fulfill its schedule, partially because each crew is required to have a rest period after a given amount of sailing time.

Thus, the requirement is not that two boats are needed, but sufficient rest for the crews is necessary.

This poses the question as to why the lives of one group of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians must be up-heaved because of what may be a simple staffing/scheduling concern.

There is one ferry gone to refit, leaving a full crew with no boat to work on. These crew members know the waters around Bell Island better than anyone, so doesn’t it make sense that the runs for the remaining ferry in Bell Island be doubled up, using its own crew as well as the one from the MV Beaumont Hamel. Both crews would be able to have the required rest, and there would be no disruption of service on this route, or cause of concern of dependability in St. Brendan’s.

Just a thought outside the box, and one the people of St. Brendan’s deserve to have considered.

khiggins@ganderbeacon.ca

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