The first of BC Ferries’ new battery electric hybrid vessels won’t be in service until early next year, but the company has already ordered more.
The ferry corporation says it has signed a $200 million contract extension with Damen Shipyards Group of the Netherlands which will see it build an additional four Island Class vessels.
Most of B.C.’s recent ferry acquisitions have been built overseas in recent years, including three C-Class vessels built in Germany for more than $500 million.
Premier John Horgan said last year that he hoped new ferries would be built in B.C., and B.C. shipbuilders shared their dismay at the news the new batch would not be produced locally.
“Those are great, good mortgage paying family raising jobs,” said Phil Venoit, business manager with the ship building union IBEW Local 230.
The ferry corporation said it put the contract out to a competitive tender in 2018, but received no local bids.
“Eighteen shipyards responded. We issued the proposal to Canadian yards and international yards, and no Canadian yards bid,” he said.
But George Macpherson, Shipyard General Workers Federation president said the province needs to try harder.
“Claire Trevena, the transportation minister, has a mandate to ensure that the bidding process is fair for the industry and its clearly not happening.”
BC Ferries is touting the new class of ferries as a significant environmental upgrade.
It says when charging technology improves, the boats will be able to operate on 100 per cent electric power. For the interim, they are powered by a hybrid system that uses low-sulfur diesel fuel and reduces emissions.
Other green features include LED lighting and heat recovery systems.
BC Ferries says the new vessels will also significantly cut down on underwater noise, due to a new twin propeller design and machinery which has been isolated to reduce vibrations.
Limiting underwater noise has become a key priority for B.C.’s marine traffic, amid growing concern about the endangered southern resident killer whale population.
The vessels can carry 47 vehicles and between 300 and 450 passengers and crew, depending on configuration.
The first two Island Class vessels, which were ordered in 2017, have completed sea trials and will be ready for delivery by January 2020, according to BC Ferries.
They will be tasked to the Powell River – Texada Island route and the Port McNeill – Alert Bay – Sointula Island route by mid-2020, the company said.
The newly-ordered ferries will be ready by 2022, and will be deployed in pairs to routes currently served by a single, larger vessel.
BC Ferries says using the smaller vessels in pairs on the Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola route and the Campbell River – Quadra Island route will increase frequency of service and reduce congestion.
The company says the new vessels will be serviced in Victoria via an agreement between Damen Shipyards and Point Hope Shipyards for technical and warranty support.