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Oct 16, 2012 04:50 PM

Quebec orders dual-fuel vessel; new interest in LNG conversions

Kennewick, the third of Washington State Ferries’ new 64-car series, entered service between Port Townsend and Coupeville, Wash., in February, but all eyes are on the upcoming 144-car series.

Courtesy Washington State Ferries

Kennewick, the third of Washington State Ferries’ new 64-car series, entered service between Port Townsend and Coupeville, Wash., in February, but all eyes are on the upcoming 144-car series.

This year has seen the first firm order for a new dual-fuel ferry from Canada and continued interest in natural gas-powered ferries in the United States.

Two years from now, if all goes according to plan, Société des traversiers du Québec (STQ) will take delivery of an 800-passenger/180-car ferry that can run on marine diesel or LNG for its routes linking Matane on the Gaspé Peninsula with Baie-Comeau and Godbout on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. The routes see 1,600 sailings a year and carry more than 200,000 passengers and 116,000 vehicles.

The $148 million contract for the 426-foot ferry went to the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, which said the new boat will have four diesel-LNG generators powering two electric propulsion units driving azimuth thrusters, with two counter-rotating propellers. The engines will be 34DFs from Wärtsilä.

Courtesy Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding

The 150-passenger catamaran ferry Ava Pearl runs between Quonset Point, R.I., and Martha’s Vineyard. Built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, it is designed to save fuel over the existing vessel.

STQ is also expected to announce a contract with Chantier Davie Canada in Lévis, Quebec, for two shorter 302-foot dual-fuel vessels for the Tadoussac-Baie-Sainte-Catherine crossing. Wärtsilä will also supply the engines for these boats, two 6L20DFs and two 9L20DFs.

In the Canadian Northwest, BC Ferries has announced that it is looking at converting some of its vessels to LNG, while warning that the cost would be significant — an estimated $10 million to $30 million per vessel. Washington State Ferries (WSF) is also looking at converting six of its Issaquah-class ferries to LNG, and the Staten Island Ferry has a federal grant to research engines and technical details.

Fuel costs are driving the interest in natural gas, but they’re not the only potential benefit.

“The current frenzy of interest is driven by economics first and environment second,” said Sean A. Caughlan, senior marine engineer with Glosten Associates of Seattle, which studied the possibility of switching WSF’s new 144-car ferries to LNG instead of diesel (the state decided not to make the change and is looking at the Issaquah class instead).

“LNG fuel is significantly less expensive than diesel, and the lower fuel cost can be used over time to pay back the significant capital investment of conversion or new build,” Caughlan said.

“The co-benefit of lower emissions should not be underestimated, however. For new builds, especially, getting to Tier 4 requirements will be difficult, and will likely come with some additional operational expenditures. Going LNG, if available, will be seen by some as a much simpler and more environmentally responsible approach.”

Caughlan points out that using LNG is only possible where supplies exist; STQ’s decision to build dual-fuel ferries was made possible by a joint initiative with a local utility, Gaz Métro. Ferries, which typically operate on short, fixed routes, are better candidates for LNG than most vessel types.

Courtesy Conrad Orange Shipyard

Pamlico Sound in North Carolina got a new 220-foot, 50-vehicle ferry in April from Conrad Orange Shipyard in Orange, Texas. It serves the state’s Cedar Island-Ocracoke and Swan Quarter-Ocracoke routes.

“Until the supply of fuel becomes as ubiquitous as diesel, LNG will probably be more attractive to operations that are back-to-base or fixed-route,” Caughlan said. “Another potential benefit … is that they are often operating in populated areas. The environmental benefits are therefore more accentuated.”

Caughlan is cautious about predicting a sudden surge in dual-fuel vessels. “My opinion is that we won’t see a massive shift to LNG in the very short term — three to five years — but rather a very moderate adoption by a few operators. ... These projects will pave the way for the next wave.”

West Coast
WSF’s new 144-car series is currently the most active ferry project in the United States. Construction on the first vessel in what is being called the Olympic class began in February and it is scheduled for delivery in early 2014; at least one more will follow. The total budget for both is $279 million; both ferries will be diesels.

The superstructures are being built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, Wash., but the primary contractor is Vigor Shipyards in Seattle, whose parent company, Vigor Industrial, now has seven facilities in the Pacific Northwest, from Portland, Ore., to Ketchikan, Alaska, where it acquired Alaska Ship & Drydock this year. The Ketchikan yard is the front-runner to build the new Alaska-class ferries for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a couple of vessels now under construction are a reminder that not all ferries are coastal. WaterBridge Steel in Nakusp, British Columbia, is building a $26.5 million ferry that will carry 80 cars and 250 passengers across Upper Arrow Lake, about 30 miles to the north. And Foss Maritime’s shipyard in Rainier, Ore., is building Sanpoil, a 20-car ferry to cross the Columbia River on Lake Roosevelt in Eastern Washington. The $9.5 million vessel will be built in sections and trucked across state.

The Foss ferry is a joint project between local tribes and the state Department of Transportation. A tribal authority has also contracted with Kvichak Marine Industries of Seattle for a 65-foot, 150-passenger catamaran linking communities on Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona line. The project is being funded through a $2.9 million grant from federal Ferry Boat Discretionary awards, still a source of significant assistance to shipbuilding.

Back in Canada, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is inviting shipyards outside the province to bid on a replacement for Capt. Earl W. Winsor, a 40-year-old vehicle ferry that serves Fogo Island.

Brian Gauvin photos

Routine maintenance on Washington State Ferries’ Walla Walla at Vigor Industrial in Seattle.

East and Gulf Coasts
The biggest prize on the horizon right now is a new class of vessels to replace three Staten Island ferries. The New York City Department of Transportation opened the design competition this summer. The ferries must be able to fit into the slips at the existing terminals. Designers have the option to use the three Molinari-class vessels built in 2005 and 2006 as a model, but that’s not a requirement. The speed is the standard 18 knots. One interesting footnote: New York also wants to retrofit the older Molinari-class boats with a propulsion system to match the new boats to simplify maintenance.

Despite the size of the Staten Island Ferry contract, shipyards are cautious about the health of this sector of the market.

“A lot of the larger vessels are so dependent on public funding, and with the government being in more of a continuing resolution rather than approving spending bills, it really has left that market idle,” said Joe Hudspeth, business development manager for All American Marine in Bellingham, Wash. “States are trying to keep themselves from going bankrupt.”

Courtesy Scarano Boat Building

A new Statue of Liberty tour boat from Scarano Boat Building in Albany, N.Y.

On the East Coast, Peter Duclos, president of Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding Duclos Corporation in Somerset, Mass., saw some signs for optimism. “Things in the ferry market are improving slowly,” Duclos said. “Banks appear to be more eager to lend money to solid operators. Operators seem to be coping better with high fuel costs.”

Gladding-Hearn delivered a 150-passenger, 108-foot catamaran ferry called Ava Pearl this summer to Rhode Island Fast Ferry of North Kingstown. The Incat Crowther design, which features twin MTU 12V4000 M53 diesels and has a service speed of 31.5 knots, runs between Quonset Point and Martha’s Vineyard and replaces the former Boston Harbor Cruises vessel Millennium. Ava Pearl is driven by twin propellers rather than waterjets.

Elsewhere on the East Coast, the North Carolina Department of Transportation took delivery of a new $14.9 million Sound-class ferry, Sea Level, from Orange Shipbuilding of Orange, Texas. The vessel is 220 feet long and has been assigned to two routes in Pamlico Sound. A sister vessel to Swan Quarter, the ferry can carry 50 vehicles and 300 passengers. The designer was Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle, which did the designs for the Washington State and Alaska ferries and is also designing a 150-passenger ferry to replace the 50-year-old Beaver Islander, which serves the small island of that name in northern Lake Michigan.

Courtesy Blount Boats

The third of four 150-passenger vessels from Blount Boats for service in Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The 75-foot boats, which have no generators, use cable steering.

Blount Boats, of Warren, R.I., delivered four unusual 75-foot, 150-passenger vessels to the U.S. Army for use by Kwajalein Range Services, a contractor at the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll.
Blount is also building a ferry for the Casco Bay Island Transit District in Maine and delivered an 89-foot excursion boat, Lila, to Wendella Sightseeing of Chicago, a repeat customer.

In Maine, E. Frank Thompson, a $9.4 million state-owned ferry that can carry 22 vehicles and 250 passengers, went into service between Rockland and Vinalhaven. The builder was C&G Boat Works of Mobile, Ala.

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