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Ferries

Oct 24, 2013 01:18 PM

BC Ferries looks for new boats; shipyards generally positive

Matt Nichols (right), CEO of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, checks on a superstructure his yard built for a 144-car ferry for Washington State.

Brian Gauvin photo

Matt Nichols (right), CEO of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, checks on a superstructure his yard built for a 144-car ferry for Washington State.

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One day, a dream will come true and New York will order more vessels for Staten Island Ferry. Until that happens, shipyards have several attractive contracts to bid on.

The Canadian market is particularly active. BC Ferries, North America’s largest ferry service, is looking for a yard to build three intermediate-size vessels, two for 145 vehicles and another for 125 vehicles, and is putting a 50-car cable ferry out to bid. And Newfoundland and Labrador is looking for two new boats.

One of the bidders interested in Newfoundland and Labrador is Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Fla., which built the vehicle ferry Grand Manan Adventure for New Brunswick. Kenneth Munroe, Eastern’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the ferry market is lively. “We have a number of bids in right now,” he said.

Brian Gauvin photo

The Nichols Brothers Boat Builders yard from Shoreview Drive.

Joe Hudspeth, vice president of business development at All American Marine, a builder of smaller vessels based in Bellingham, Wash., is also positive. “Our last four contracts have been for passenger vessels, and we have been negotiating proposals for more,” Hudspeth said. “Clearly there is pent-up demand, and operators are choosing to make the investment in a new boat now, while the market is strong and before EPA Tier 4 regulations come into effect.”

An improving economy always spurs proposals for new ferry routes. In New York City, candidates hoping to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have been falling over each other to promise increased ferry service. In Tampa Bay, HMS Ferries, the largest private operator in the United States, has presented plans for a passenger ferry that would serve MacDill Air Force Base during the week and link downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg on weekends. Virginia is studying fast-ferry service on the Potomac River in the Washington, D.C., area as well as Hampton Roads. And Rhode Island Fast Ferry has applied to operate a new service to Block Island from Quonset on the mainland, a proposal that is being fought by the existing operator.

There’s an international twist, too. Nova Scotia has announced plans to re-establish ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Portland, Maine. In Florida, Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, has floated the idea of ferry service to Havana if U.S.-Cuban relations improve. And two new ferries started service this year between Miami and Bimini in the Bahamas.

© Yankee Freedom III; Rob O’Neal photo

This 250-passenger ferry was built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding of Somerset, Mass., and runs between Key West and Dry Tortugas National Park. The National Park Service requested green features including zero discharge, an onboard oil boom, LED lights and solar-charged emergency batteries.

Ferries cost money, of course, and that’s where dreams collide with reality. Some political candidates in New York want to expand service on the Staten Island Ferry to midtown and guarantee a wait of no more than 30 minutes, day or night. But the fact is that the city already puts the cost of the ferry, famously free, at $4.86 per passenger, each way. Proposals for adding ferries from Brooklyn to Sheepshead Bay, continuing and expanding service to the Rockaways and increasing runs on the East River all raise economic questions.

Economics have also curbed some ferry plans. Port Townsend, Wash., voted last year to return a $1.3 million federal grant after determining that a fast passenger-only ferry to Seattle — a 70-minute run — could not sustain itself. On the East Coast, Stamford, Conn., decided this spring it couldn’t guarantee enough demand to go ahead with fast-ferry service to Manhattan.

© Yankee Freedom III; Rob O’Neal photo

The bridge console. The 110-foot vessel can top 28 knots.

Connecticut is currently phasing in higher ferry fares and Washington state is imposing across-the-board increases Oct. 31, although North Carolina managed to sidestep new tolls this year. Louisiana, where many politicians would like to unload ferry service altogether, ended the run between Gretna and New Orleans at the end of June and threatened the ferry that links Canal Street to Algiers Point, a route that has existed since 1827 (in the end it cut out night service, and the ferryboat, Col. Frank X. Armiger, locally notorious for its unreliability, went down with generator problems anyway, necessitating a temporary substitute).

Interest in alternative fuels continues in the wake of last year’s precedent-setting order from Société des traversiers du Québec (STQ) for a dual-fuel vessel to carry 800 passengers and 180 cars across the St. Lawrence. That contract went to Italy, but, as expected, STQ followed it this year with an order for two 115-vehicle dual-fuel ferries from Chantier Davie Canada in Lévis, Quebec, at an estimated cost of $125 million. All three vessels would have the option to run on liquefied natural gas as well as diesel.

BC Ferries expects to award a contract for its three new intermediate-size vessels early next year and says it would prefer LNG, but adds that it hasn’t decided yet whether to require it, citing bunkering logistics as a stumbling block.

Washington State Ferries is evaluating proposals for an LNG propulsion system for its 90-car Issaquah-class ferries and is considering converting the 144-car ferry Hyak, built in 1967, to hybrid power. Staten Island Ferry also has access to a $2.3 million federal grant to look into converting one of its smaller vessels to run on LNG; a delegation from New York visited Norway in May to ride an LNG ferry and discuss safety and bunkering.

Region by region, here’s what’s happening:

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