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Qajaq starts its run: Belle Isle ferry two months ahead of schedule

The MV Qajaq W arrived in the Strait of Belle Isle for two crossings on Sunday, Jan. 27. Pictured is the ferry arriving in Blanc Sablon for the first time.
The MV Qajaq W arrived in the Strait of Belle Isle for two crossings on Sunday, Jan. 27. Pictured is the ferry arriving in Blanc Sablon for the first time. - Evan Careen

STRAIT OF BELLE ISLE, N.L. - Labrador Marine Inc.’s MV Qajaq W, the ferry formerly known as MV Grete, has begun transporting passengers and vehicles across the Strait of Belle Isle, approximately two months earlier than expected.

The ferry arrived in St. John’s on Sunday morning, Jan. 20, and departed for St. Barbe on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

It made its first run across the Strait of Belle Isle on Sunday, Jan. 27.

The first day didn’t go without some hitches.

The ferry arrived in St. Barbe around 11:30 am. But docking difficulties caused a delay.

While scheduled to leave at 1 p.m., the Qajaq didn’t depart for Blanc Sablon until around 3:30 p.m. Its second crossing was cancelled.

The ferry had the same issue with the ramp in Blanc Sablon and, while scheduled for a 10:30 am and 3:30 pm crossing, it only made one crossing around 8:30 pm.

Dave Leyden, Labrador Marine operations manager, told The Northern Pen that some issues were expected docking the ship starting out and it will take a few trips to get the vessel and shore ramps in sync.

He doesn’t expect the issue to last long-term.

“It’s going to be some time feeling her out, getting her used to it, no point in beating her up trying to get her to dock,” he said. “It’s a brand new service, it’s going to take a bit of time to get it sorted out.”

About the Qajaq

The eight-year-old MV Qajaq W (pronounced “kayak W”) replaces the 49-year-old MV Apollo to service the Strait of Belle Isle.

“It’s also a significant moment for our province as the vessel is named Qajaq, reflecting the Indigenous elements of Labrador which highlights an important piece of our vast history and culture,” said Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair MHA Lisa Dempster.

The vessel can transport as many as 300 passengers, 120 passenger vehicles and eight tractor trailers – 60 passengers and 35 vehicles more than the Apollo.

The seven-year-old MV Hiiumaa is currently undergoing modifications in Norway and will begin servicing communities on the north coast of Labrador and Black Tickle in June, as scheduled.

It was noted in a media release that “the two new vessels improve the way passengers, freight, and vehicles are transported throughout Labrador and across the Strait of Belle Isle.”

Both vessels are fully accessible for passengers with disabilities and 1A ice class certified, capable of operating in heavy sea ice conditions.

The contracts with Labrador Marine are valued at approximately $11.9 million per year for a 12-year term on the Strait of Belle Isle and $14.6 million per year for a 15-year term for northern Labrador. The contract serving northern Labrador will be delivered in working partnership with Nunatsiavut Marine Inc.

“The investments our government have made in ferries for the Strait of Belle Isle and northern Labrador, as well as the Trans-Labrador Highway, are providing stable and improved transportation for Labrador,” said Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker. “These modern and accessible ferries will also encourage more tourists to visit communities in Labrador and provide a more comfortable experience for all travellers.”

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