Polish shipyard to renovate B.C. Ferries' two largest vessels for $140 million

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A contract to renovate B.C. Ferries’ two largest vessels has been awarded to the largest shipyard in Poland for $140 million.

The ferry corporation announced on Thursday that both Spirit-class ferries, the Spirit of Vancouver Island and Spirit of British Columbia, will undergo mid-life upgrades at Remontowa Ship Repair Yard S.A. in Gdansk, Poland so that the vessels can be used for another 25 years.

The bulk of the value of the contract will go towards converting both vessels to dual-fuel so that the ships can operate on liquid natural gas (LNG), which costs less than the current usage of marine fuel to power the four engines in each vessel.

B.C. Ferries says 16% of its $118-million annual fuel budget is spent by the two Spirit-class ferries that serve the high-traffic route between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay.

Remontowa was selected for its wealth in shipbuilding experience, given that it carries out about 200 ship projects on an annual basis and has worked on LNG fuelled vessels before.

“The conversion of the two largest ships in the fleet along with the three new dual-fuel Salish-Class vessels currently under construction will go a long way to help with fare affordability for our customers as LNG costs significantly less than marine diesel,” said Mark Wilson, BC Ferries’ Vice President of Engineering, in a statement.

Besides a reduction in operating costs, the LNG fuel capability is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12,000 tonnes annually – a reduction equivalent to taking 2,500 vehicles off the road.

Other improvements to the vessels include a new interior to improve passenger comfort, such as new carpeting, new lighting, new washrooms, upgraded elevators, and an expanded gift shop and coffee bar.

There will also be renewals of the air conditioning system, evacuation system and rescue boats, fire detection system, navigation equipment, rudders, steering system, bow thrusters, and propeller blades.

B.C. Ferries considered two other bids from Italy’s Fincanteri and North Vancouver’s Seaspan, which dropped out likely due to its commitments to the federal government’s National Shipbuilding Program.

The upgrade project will begin with the Spirit of British Columbia following the peak summer 2017 season. It will travel through the Panama Canal on its way to Europe in the fall of 2017 and return in the spring of 2018. And then in the fall of 2018, the Spirit of Vancouver Island will commence its upgrades for a scheduled return to service by spring 2019.

With this schedule, both vessels will be able to remain in service during the busy summer. When the vessels are out of service, one of the Super-C Class ferries – the second largest ferries in the fleet – will be pulled in to cover the sailing schedule.

The Spirit of British Columbia and Spirit of Vancouver Island were built in Victoria and North Vancouver shipyards in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Each vessel has a length of 168 metres and a capacity for 2,100 passengers and crew and 470 vehicles.

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