UPDATE: Victoria Shipyards owner Seaspan keen to check out B.C. Ferries’ ships request

Three new vessels to be built, but the question is, where?

This story contains additional information from the original filed Tuesday.

B.C. Ferries has received approval to construct three new medium-sized vessels, and the B.C. government is leaving it up to the corporation to decide where they are built.

“Certainly we’d be very supportive of the ships being built in British Columbia,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Tuesday. “Government does not have the purview to dictate to B.C. Ferries who can and cannot participate in their procurement process. That’s internal to B.C. Ferries.”

B.C. Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee announced approval Tuesday to replace two old ferries scheduled for retirement in 2016.

The 48-year-old Queen of Burnaby serves the Comox-to-Powell River run, and the 49-year-old Queen of Nanaimo sails on the Tsawwassen-Gulf Islands circuit.

B.C. Ferries announced Tuesday it will invite qualified bids for two replacement ships with capacity for up to 145 vehicles and 600 passengers. A third with room for 125 vehicles and 600 passengers will be used for peak-season service on the Gulf Islands run and replacement duty when the other two are undergoing maintenance.

Brian Carter, president of Seaspan Shipyards, which operates Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt  and two facilities in North Vancouver, called the announcement “great news for B.C. Ferries and great news for the overall marine industry in the region.”

Seaspan is currently five months into design work, with construction due to start next spring or summer, on a contract to build vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard.

The company will assess its capacity to take on such a B.C. Ferries contract once it determines the specifics of the request, Carter said.

In terms of competing against foreign firms, he said the federal shipbuilding program is giving the company and the B.C. industry in general more competitive capabilities every day.

“True efficiencies [will be] gained once we start constructing vessels.”

Qualified Canadian and international shipyards will be invited to bid, with a contract to be awarded by January 2014. B.C. Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan said the focus is on cost savings and standardization of vessels, many of which now have different deck heights and dock requirements.

The last major contract was for three Coastal-class ferries, completed by a German shipyard in 2007 and 2008. They now serve the main Vancouver Island runs.

Corrigan said B.C. Ferries will examine whether new ships can be run on liquefied natural gas instead of diesel. That increases the construction cost, but fuel savings are projected to pay for themselves in as little as eight years.

While Seaspan has never built an LNG powered vessel, Carter said the manufacture of LNG equipment would likely take place off site.

The Coastal Ferries Act requires the B.C. Ferries Commissioner to approve capital expenditures. The order for these ferries specifies that construction must be open to a pool of bidders, and that food and retail services on board must not be subsidized by fare revenue.

– with files from Don Descoteau

editor@vicnews.com

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