Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Freight Ferry Routes Essential to Remote Communities after Cargo Vessel Fails

Breakdown Engenders Anger as Fear of Winter Strikes
Shipping News Feature

CANADA - Once again the inhabitants of a hard to reach outpost are fighting to ensure their future after a vital freight link has been broken. The story mirrors previous situations like those on Flinders Island and even the Channel Isles and inhabitants of the remote coastal community of Rigolet in Northern Labrador have literally demonstrated their concerns following the failure of their lifeline, the cargo vessel Northern Ranger which broke down last month.

The residents of Rigolet protested over Thanksgiving weekend claiming that they have had to endure a substandard level of service which would not be tolerated in Newfoundland. A group of around 30 people delayed the departure of the freighter Astron. Speaking on CBC Radio 1, protester Elsie Wolfrey said:

“The first protest that we had was on Saturday when the Astron arrived in Rigolet around 8.30, there were just under 30 protesters, we counted 28, we let the freight be unloaded and when it was time for them to put their equipment and stuff back on, we blocked the boat ramp. The vessel was here in Rigolet for under an hour, before we allowed them to pull up their line and allow them to leave”

When she was asked why the protesters delayed the freighter for under an hour, Wolfrey said that they know how important freight is for other communities and they didn’t want to delay it for too long. They just wanted to make the point that they were dissatisfied.

The next day, the same group of protesters and some new recruits blocked a replacement air charter. Ferry company CAI Nunatsiavut Marine had chartered the small aircraft for those who normally travel on the Northern Ranger and the demonstrators prevented the plane, too small to carry any cargo, from taking off until the RCMP intervened and asked the protesters to move for safety reasons. Wolfrey said:

“We formed a human chain so that the plane couldn’t leave and we walked around the plane with our signs to show our dissatisfaction about how the government thinks that a charter service could replace a boat. We kept the plane there until another plane started landing, at that point the RMCP asked us to get off.”

She ended her interview by saying how the community is feeling neglected and that they are trying to get the attention of Minister of Transportation and Works Tom Hedderson and are asking for his support as all their previous communications seems to have gone unanswered. It looks like the radio interview worked as Hedderson too spoke on CBC Radio 1 as a response to Elsie Wolfrey’s radio interview. Hedderson sympathised with the residents affected saying that he fully appreciate their frustration on the North Coast and Black Tickle and with the Northern Ranger down, there is added pressure on freight vessels and the government is trying to take care of that. He continued:

“We are getting to the end of our season and around this time a lot of people around the north coast and Black Tickle are anxious because they know what’s coming and they want to make sure that all the freight that is required for the winter is in and stocked and we’re all ready to go and I can assure them that we are keeping up with the freight and of course we are monitoring the situation and we usually put a date as the deadline for getting freight gets closer.

“We will commit to whatever means we need to, to get that freight to the north coast so they can have their stock for the winter. We did get that freight to the north coast last year and I have no doubt that we will do that again this year.

“There was a bit of bad luck with the Northern Ranger, she has served the north coast well since 1986 and we realise that she is coming to the end of her service but we maintain it very well and keep her in top shape, but we just had that unfortunate incident where metal shavings ended up in the gear box and just stripped all the gears out. We had hoped that we would her repaired and the contractor is consulting with Transport Canada to determine the exact scope of work that needs to be done.”

He added that he can’t guarantee that the vessel will be back and wouldn’t be able to comment on her condition until he receives the report back. Hedderson continued by reiterating that the government are doing what they can with what they have to get the freight and passenger services moving as seamlessly as possible back and forth to the North Coast and Black Tickle.

Photo: Protestors deny take off by pacing round the small passenger aircraft