About 230 people were evacuated from a ferry near Prince Edward Island on Friday morning after a fire broke out in its engine room.
John Kenny was on board the MV Holiday Island with his eight-year-old son, en route to Prince Edward Island to visit his parents. Most passengers remained calm when the loud, ringing alarms went off, he said in an interview on Friday. It was a bit more unsettling, he said, to see the gray and black smoke billowing from the ship’s smokestack.
It was when a huge inflatable slide popped up from the side of the ship to provide an escape route that the seriousness of the situation set in, Kenny said.
“So you’re like, ‘It doesn’t seem like it’s just a precaution,'” he said. “Then a few minutes later you start seeing people sliding into a raft.”
People were picked up and taken ashore by fishing boats, lifeboats and even a yacht, he said, adding that it looked like everyone had been helping out.
Holiday Island crosses the Northumberland Strait between Caribou, N.S. and Wood Islands, PEI. The vessel is nearly 98 meters long, according to marine traffic websites, and it carries vehicles as well as passengers.
The ferry was approaching the port just after 11 a.m. Friday when a fire broke out in its engine room, said Northumberland Ferries Ltd., the company that operates the ship. The captain dropped both anchors and steered the vessel onto a soft shoal, company vice president Dan Cormier said in a news release.
Northumberland initially reported there were 182 passengers on board. This was updated to around 230 passengers on Friday afternoon. All passengers had been brought ashore by 1:15 p.m. local time, according to a tweet from the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax. No injuries were reported.
However, there were also about 80 vehicles and three commercial trucks on board, Rhonda Latter, director of business services, said in an email. She did not know when the rescued passengers might be reunited with their cars and belongings.
“We will attempt to bring the vessel back to dock when it is reasonably safe,” she said.
Kenny said he was grateful no one was hurt, but felt bad for everyone who had no vehicles or luggage.
“For sure a lot of people aren’t going to have a great weekend,” he said, noting that there were a lot of young families on board. “I mean, I have some medicine over there that I need by tomorrow.”
People were allowed to have their pets, Kenny said, adding that he saw a woman holding a cat and a birdcage that carried a few parakeets.
Everyone was taken by school bus to the nearby tourist information center, where staff took people’s names and offered them a place to sit, he said.
He confirmed that Northumberland staff are also arranging transport, accommodation and other costs for those who need it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Prince Edward Island on Friday to wrap up a tour of Atlantic Canada and told reporters he was monitoring the situation closely.
“It was a really scary situation for everyone involved, so our thoughts are with them,” Trudeau said. “We are working to provide them with the necessary support.”
Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King confirmed that Trudeau had offered “all necessary support in the days ahead.”
“Today was a scary day for the passengers and staff aboard the MV Holiday Island, their families and loved ones,” King said in a press release. He thanked everyone who helped with the evacuation efforts, including ferry staff, first responders, police and local fishermen.
He said crews from organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross and the province’s Emergency Measures Organization were providing passengers with accommodation, supplies and transportation.
Officers from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada will arrive at the scene Saturday to begin an investigation, the agency said in an email.
The latter said the company did not yet know when the MV Holiday Island might be back in service. However, the MV Confederation will resume service along the route from Saturday on a revised schedule, she said.