Ferry service between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia has been suspended for the weekend due to a fire that forced more than 200 passengers and employees to evacuate the MV Holiday Island on Friday.

Northumberland Ferries announced Friday evening that ferry service between Caribou, Nova Scotia and Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island will be canceled for a second day due to the emergency at MV Holiday Island. He said in an update Saturday morning that all crossings would also be canceled until Sunday.

On Saturday, passengers were told by Northumberland Ferries via text message that the company was unsure whether the vehicles on board could be recovered and that the fire was still burning.

“[We] cannot determine with certainty whether there will possibly be any damage to the vehicles. At this time, we don’t believe there is a lot of damage,” said Don Cormier, company vice president.

“Our intention is to tow the vessel to port and, yes, unload the vehicles. But we think that will take time.”

The smoke rose again on Saturday afternoon

On Saturday afternoon, smoke could still be seen billowing from the ferry heading for Prince Edward Island, almost a full day after a fire broke out in the ship’s engine room .

Cormier said crew and firefighters ended onboard efforts to extinguish the fire and evacuated the ferry as a precaution around 9:30 p.m. Friday.

He said some of the water used for boundary cooling ended up in the holds, causing the vessel to tilt and threatening its stability.

The Environmental Response Team vehicle at the site on Saturday. (Radio Canada/Tony Davis)

“It was decided that the ongoing firefighting efforts were really not productive in terms of boundary cooling,” Cormier said.

“The captain and the authorities and agencies have all agreed that we should evacuate the ship. So currently there is no one on board.”

Cormier said in the afternoon the fire was believed to be still contained in the ship’s engine room and funnels. He said water might have to be pumped out of the holds, which could result in residual oil spilling.

Northumberland Ferries has called in an environmental response team “as a precaution” which is now on site.

Efforts to extinguish the fire continue at the port

Northumberland Ferries says firefighting efforts will resume once the ship is closer to port. (Radio Canada/Tony Davis)

He said the Canadian Coast Guard monitored the situation throughout the night and is still there. A tug with firefighting capabilities applied boundary cooling to the sides of the ship’s decks and cars.

The vessel was moved slightly to deeper water on Friday so the tug could operate properly. It also paved the way for the MV Confédération, the company’s other ship.

Cormier said the plan is to move the MV Holiday Island to Wood Islands Harbor at high tide and deal with any remaining fires there. He said it could possibly happen on Sunday.

Four employees from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada were deployed to investigate the fire.

The TSB said investigators will interview witnesses and collect data. He said they would only board the ferry if it was deemed safe.

Company working on hosting

Don Cormier, vice-president of Northumberland Ferries. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In the meantime, Northumberland Ferries said the company would work with customers to get them home “as quickly as possible” or extend temporary accommodation.

Cormier said workers who were furloughed, and even some who had retired or left the company, came back to help.

Buses have been mobilized for passengers living in Atlantic Canada. Some have already been recovered. Cormier said they are also working with those living outside the region to organize the logistics of their return.

He said it was difficult to find accommodation because of the season. But that those who pay out of pocket will be reimbursed. There is also an allowance for meals and incidental expenses.

The company is also working to transfer prescriptions and deliver medication to five passengers who left them in their vehicles.

“It was not the day planned”

Mary Clark-Touesnard suffered a minor arm injury while being evacuated from the ferry. (Radio Canada/Tony Davis)

Passenger Mary Clark-Touesnard said her sister left a prescription and had to sort out with her pharmacy how to get a refill in PEI.

“[We’ve been] buy clothes because … all of our luggage, all of our stuff, was in the vehicle,” she said. “It was not the day we had planned.

Although all passengers were safely evacuated and no serious injuries were reported, Clark-Touesnard and her sister suffered bruises and abrasions while descending the chute.

“I’m thankful it didn’t turn out worse than it was,” she said. “So a little tired, a little disappointed, worried about the vehicle and all of our belongings, but overall happy no one was seriously injured.”

The sisters have decided to stay with the family while they wait to see if their vehicle can be recovered. They had intended to leave on Sunday but are not sure now.

“Of course we are concerned [about] insurance claims,” said Clark-Touesnard. “Nothing like this is resolved quickly.

There are 83 vehicles on the ship. Cormier said if the vehicles weren’t salvageable, the company would “undoubtedly” face compensation claims.

“Our insurance company and our company will respond to all these claims and all customer needs,” he said. “Certainly we care about customers and we want to…given the circumstances, to make the best of what is obviously a terrible situation.”

Stop smoking from the ship

Cormier said an update on the resumption of services will be provided Sunday afternoon.

He said it is too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.

“All I can say is that the ship is very well maintained and it is premature to speculate on the root cause,” he said.

Late Saturday, Cormier said there was no more smoke coming from the ferry, but that didn’t mean the fire was out.

“It’s not safe to have anyone on board or to open the engine room spaces,” he said. “For security reasons, we will monitor.”