The Marine Atlantic ferry MV Blue Puttees was expected to finally make it into port in North Sydney late Friday after being stuck in thick pack ice off Cape Breton since Wednesday.

Help arrived Friday morning, but it was slow going all day, said Darrell Mercer, spokesman for Marine Atlantic.

The coast guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent came to the ship’s aid on Wednesday, but was unable to free the vessel before being chased back to port by a snowstorm.

It has had difficulty since then reaching the ferry due to the thickness of the ice just offshore, said Mercer.

“It’s been a challenging few days … because of the winds that were associated with that [storm] system. The ice became pressurized and caused some thicker ridges.

“This morning they’re still trying to break through the ice, but the ice pressure is still too thick, too severe. This is the worst ice conditions we’ve experienced in years.”

By Friday afternoon, the icebreaker managed to bring the Blue Puttees to within about 8 miles of the Marine Atlantic terminal, Mercer said.

“They are making some progress. We are optimistic that we may be able to arrive in North Sydney late this afternoon or early this evening.”

Mercer said 40 passengers are on the Blue Puttees, which was en route from Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, when it got stuck.

An additional 151 passengers have been waiting on board the MV Highlanders at the dock in North Sydney since Wednesday, and 12 commercial passengers are on the MV Atlantic Vision.

“They’ve been waiting to depart since Wednesday as well, however, with ice conditions the way they are right now, and the icebreaker not able to manoeuvre, they’ve suspended sailings until the icebreaker can clear a path to the Blue Puttees,” Mercer said.

“Ultimately, the decision is that it’s better just to have the Blue Puttees out there than to send the Atlantic Vision and the Highlanders out and risk both of those vessels getting stuck as well.”

With the ferries to Newfoundland tied up for three days, traffic has backed up at ports in North Sydney and Port aux Basques, Mercer said, making it more imperative that the ferries move out as soon as ice conditions change.

Shifting winds on Friday were expected to move some of the ice offshore, or at least take some of the pressure off, he said.

“From that perspective, we’re hoping that Mother Nature will finally co-operate with us on this first day of spring.”