Last Friday protestors waited patiently across the street from the sand-turning for Libra House wanting transportation minister Tom Hedderson to come and address their concerns about the Northern Ranger that has been dry-docked after gearbox problems.
Right now the Astron is the only vessel bringing in freight to the northern communities and there is no ferry service to allow people to get out, leaving many to rely on flights to leave isolated communities.
Annie Okkuatsiak from Sheshatshiu says because it is taking so long for the Astron to get into the north, she has had to send milk and food by boat to her niece.
“It is bad, my sister has not been able to cook with carrots because there are no vegetables. They (the government) need to know we exist, we need food,” she said.
Okkuatsiak said even with the Astron making the trip to the North it takes along time for supplies to get there because the Astron has to make several stops at other places.
“I want to tell the minister, we need a new boat. We need freight and food. Just like everybody else, we need food too,” she said.
Okkuatsiak said she wants the government to think about the children who are going to bed hungry and questions if the minister even knows what hunger feels like.
“I don’t even think they care. They’re not even thinking about the people who elected them. Once they get elected, we are forgotten,” she added.
She said the ferry that runs in St. John’s was repaired right away, but because this is a freight boat it is taking longer and people are becoming stressed on the north coast because they are in dire need of food.
Jennifer Oliver made the trip from Nain in the hopes of meeting with the minister and expressing her concerns about the Northern Ranger.
“The service that we are getting is not adequate, passengers cannot travel on the Astron making it difficult for some people to get out of Nain because the Ranger is out of service,” she said.
“I want to tell the minister, we need a new boat. We need freight and food. Just like everybody else, we need food too.” - — Annie Okkuatsiak, Sheshatshiu
Oliver says even though the Astron is arriving when it can, most of the produce by the time it gets to Nain has become rotten. She says she feels people in the north are being treated as third-class citizens.
“As aboriginals we are not going to sit back and keep quiet and continue to be treated as third-class citizens, we are in need of a reliable service,” she said.
Transportation minister Tom Hedderson told media the Northern Ranger has a five-year contract to supply Labrador, with two years gone by and the government’s first priority is to get a freight vessel.
“Later this fall we are going to go out with a proposal, looking at a new build or a comparable boat,” he said.
According to Minister Hedderson during the latest breakdown of the Ranger there were no comparable boats available for short-term use. He said when the government put out a call last year for a freight boat no one came forward with adequate boats.
“We have it under review and it is too early to be talking about where we are going to go with passenger and freight service. We understand the needs of the coast and we are carefully monitoring it.”
He says right now the Ranger has been towed to a shipyard where problems with the gearbox are being fixed and parts needed have been ordered.
“Our contingency plan seems to be rolling out, pretty, pretty good and the Astron is taking care of the freight. However we are very apologetic to any inconvenience to the people on the North Coast are experiencing. It was an unexpected breakdown,” Minister Hedderson said.