B.C.’s ship-building industry will soon get another crack at winning business from BC Ferries.
The company plans to replace three aging vessels currently serving on inter-island routes, including the Mayne Queen, Powell River Queen and Bowen Queen. All three were built in 1965.
While the exact number of new ships to be constructed won’t be known for another couple of weeks – public consultation on desired service levels is helping to determine that figure – they will be known as Island class vessels and carry up to 44 vehicles and 300 passengers and crew.
Two of these ships are currently being built in Romania by Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards Group, for replacement of vessels working Northern Gulf Island routes. Victoria’s Point Hope Maritime won the contract to service the ships for warranty work.
Other B.C. firms will have a chance to bid on construction of however many Island class vessels are to be built for BC Ferries as it gradually refurbishes its fleet.
“Even though [two ships] are being built in other yards, we’re going to go to an open market to build replicas of these ships,” says Mark Wilson, vice-president of strategy and community engagement with BC Ferries.
The procurement process begins with an expression of interest followed by a request for pre-qualifications, where a company’s history and abilities are assessed, and finally a request for proposals. Wilson noted that all three steps for the smaller vessels should be done by the end of 2018, and the new ships need to be in place by 2021.
|The Powell River Queen is one of the vessels that will be replaced by BC Ferries. (BC Ferries)|
Five larger C-class vessels, including the Queen of Cowichan, Queen of Coquitlam, Queen of Oak Bay, Queen of Alberni and Queen of New Westminster, will also need to be replaced. These ships, built between 1964 and 1976, provide service between Departure Bay and Horseshoe Bay, Duke Point and Tsawwassen, and Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay. Wilson says the procurement process for building these ships is years down the line, although a request for proposals for a design consultant has been made.
“We’re basically looking for a consultant to help us explore options like looking at diesel, LNG and other options,” he said, likening it to hiring a specialist to help a person look at cars before making a purchase.
Any kind of procurement process for the larger vessels are at least a year and a half away, with a goal of getting the first vessel into service by 2023.
Premier John Horgan said Wednesday he would prefer to see ships built in B.C., after the previous Liberal government spent 16 years hiring outside companies in Germany and Poland to build vessels.
“The capacity for the ship-building industry isn’t what it was, but I’m certainly hopeful that we can work with BC Ferries and the ship-building industries to participate in the bids to the extent that we can,” he said.
Wilson said BC Ferries is also hoping they can contract to B.C. companies, but it will come down to cost efficiencies.
“If local industry is competitive, and I sure hope it is, then it will go to locals,” he said. “But price is one of the considerations here, because it affects the price to ferry users.”