Lawsuit of the week: Ferry firms sue Nanaimo Port Authority over stalled passenger ferry plan

A trio of companies is suing the Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA) and a private equity firm for allegedly stealing confidential information related to a plan to start a high-speed Nanaimo-to-downtown-Vancouver passenger ferry service.

Island Ferry Services Ltd., Island Ferry Management Ltd. and Island Maritime Holdings Ltd. filed a notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on August 16. The companies claim the port authority and Conqora Capital Partners Inc. abruptly backed out of a proposed deal for equity financing and a lease in November 2020. The Island Ferry plaintiffs claim they’ve spent more than 15 years and upwards of $18 million developing plans for ferry service between downtown Vancouver and Nanaimo.

Over the last decade and a half, the plaintiffs claim they’ve created business plans and a host of reports related to the plan including “financial models, ridership projections, operational plans, vessel certification, environmental reports and agreements with third parties.”

The companies claim they shared confidential information with the defendants after signing non-disclosure agreements as part of their efforts to secure financing and a lease from the port authority for a facility to house the operation. However, the port authority allegedly backed out and refused to ever sign a lease with the Island Ferry companies, leading Conqora to pull its original investment offer.

“Conqora then misappropriated Island Ferries’ confidential and proprietary information to pursue the business on its own,” the claim states. “In September 2021, Conqora publicly announced that it had entered into agreements with the NPA and the Snuneymuxw First Nation for the purpose of providing the business.”

Island Ferries, according to the claim, has been exploring plans for ferry services on several different routes since 2006, raising millions in investments and securing $30 million in financing from the Toronto-Dominion Bank for vessels.

Moreover, the companies claim they have “strong support” from all levels of government to start the service, having obtained more than $13 million from a federal government grant. Most of the confidential information, according to the claim, was “required” by the port authority as well as TransLink to secure space at the Nanaimo terminal and the SeaBus terminal.

By the summer of 2020, the companies claim Conqora began excluding their representatives from negotiations with third parties and used confidential information “for its own benefit and/or without any due regard for Island Ferries’ legitimate interests.”

Island Ferry Services Ltd., Island Ferry Management Ltd. and Island Maritime Holdings Ltd. seek unspecified damages for breach of confidence, breach of fiduciary duty and misappropriation of confidential information.

The allegations have not been tested or proven in court, and neither Conqora nor the Nanaimo Port Authority had responded to the lawsuit by press time.