HALIFAX - The restoration of the Bluenose II, heavily promoted as Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador, hit yet another snag Wednesday as provincial officials scrambled to explain why they had to nix a long-anticipated test drive at the last minute.
Kelliann Dean, the deputy minister for the province's Culture and Heritage Department, said the cancellation happened because of a lack of paperwork.
Dean said officials in her department thought they had been cleared to go ahead with the test in Lunenburg, N.S., when they received verbal assurances from a surveyor with the American Bureau of Shipping to proceed.
But Dean said what was actually needed was an inspection certificate from Transport Canada before the vessel could be allowed to leave the dock.
"I think everybody was doing everything they could to ensure that they had the appropriate documentation and approvals in place," she said.
She said officials became aware of the problem late Tuesday and it was made public early Wednesday. The test drive has been postponed until further notice.
The provincial government announced late Tuesday that the Bluenose II would undergo engine, steering and anchor tests in Lunenburg harbour if the weather co-operated.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives blamed "Liberal incompetence" for the abrupt cancellation, saying the latest glitch was inexcusable.
"It's the minister's responsibility to ensure that his department is prepared for something like this," said Karla MacFarlane, the Tory critic for the Bluenose II file.
"Really? You thought that you could take it out with just a verbal agreement?"
Dean said the province would have to book an agent from the American Bureau of Shipping from either Montreal or Saint John, N.B., to conduct an inspection and issue the certificate. She said Transport Canada contracts out some services to the ABS.
She couldn't say how long the process would take.
The Bluenose II has been undergoing a multi-year restoration that's been plagued by budget overruns and repeated delays, the latest caused by a problem with the vessel's steering system.
The government said May 1 that a test drive would have to be completed before sea trials, the final phase of the project, take place.
Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince said last month that the project's cost had ballooned to nearly $18 million. Still, Ince said he was optimistic the vessel would be seaworthy for at least a part of the tourism season this year.
The iconic schooner was supposed to return to regular sailing in the summer of 2012 after an extensive two-year rebuild at a cost of $15.9 million, with $4.9 million from Ottawa. Since then, Nova Scotians have seen proposed dates for sea trials and official launches come and go.
In January, Premier Stephen McNeil asked the province's auditor general to review the restoration that began under the previous NDP government, calling the project a "boondoggle."
McNeil announced Wednesday that David Darrow, his deputy minister and the clerk of the Executive council, would assume oversight of the restoration.
Acting auditor general Alan Horgan also said Wednesday that his office was aiming to release the audit of the Bluenose II project as part of its fall report scheduled for November.
The department estimated the costs of Wednesday's aborted test drive, which included having crew on hand, at $15,000.
© Coast Reporter