German purchase of Victoria Clipper part of North America foray

The purchase of Victoria Clipper last month by Förde Reederei Seetouristik is the most recent foray into the North American marketplace for the German company — and more deals appear to be on the horizon.

According to company spokeswoman Birte Dettmers, the FRS group has been steadily expanding its operations and sees acquisition of the Seattle-based Clipper as a chance for both companies to “bundle their strengths” for future growth.

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“Clipper and FRS are both family run companies with successful histories as travel providers and high-speed ferry operators,” Dettmers said in an email.

“Their values and long-term business goals align, making this acquisition a natural fit for both companies. It provides both companies with new opportunities for growth across North America, and will ultimately help strengthen Clipper’s operations in the [U.S.] Pacific Northwest and Canada.”

New services will start soon. When the announcement of the sale was made, Clipper founder Merideth Tall noted they would be expanding service to include a daily harbour-to-harbour Victoria-Vancouver run this spring, and there are plans for service between Vancouver and Nanaimo.

“North America and especially Washington state and British Columbia have a big ferry industry, and FRS and Clipper see further potential in the market,” Dettmers said. “With the international expertise in the ferry business and business development of FRS and the regional expertise of Clipper, we are convinced [we can] establish a reliable ferry link with a high-speed catamaran between Vancouver and Victoria.”

Tall, who founded the Clipper 30 years ago to provide passenger service between Seattle and Victoria, has always wanted to add Victoria to Vancouver but held off until the company had the right vessel for the job.

The partnership with FRS means they have the right vessel. Though details have not been released, it will have the capacity to carry 400 passengers, be larger and faster than anything Clipper has operated and will take about three hours for the daily round-trip.

It is expected to start in the spring, ahead of a proposed service between Victoria harbour and Vancouver harbour by Australia-based Riverside Marine.

Riverside, which will operate from the CPR Steamship Terminal in Victoria, is spending $15 million to get its service up and running by July.

FRS has its eyes on at least one other North American market.

“Further plans of FRS include establishing a ferry service between Florida and Cuba,” said Dettmers, noting FRS has established an office in Miami.

“With these plans, FRS will strengthen their position in North America and continue to be the biggest ferry and shipping company for short-distance ferry routes worldwide.”

FRS had already made a splash on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., when it collaborated with New York Water Taxis in 2010.

Dettmers said FRS, which started in 1866 and has grown from a regional steamboat company to an international shipping firm, has been looking around the world for expansion possibilities.

Last year, FRS started operating ferries on both the northern and southern routes around Finland and the Aland Islands and, just last month, it expanded ferry service between line between Motril in Spain and Tangier-Med in Morocco.

The company also offers maritime consultancy, offshore logistics such as running crew transport vessels to offshore wind farms, and a regional bus service in northern Germany. Its ferries carry about 7.6 million passengers and two million vehicles annually.

It controls 60 vessels and employs more than 1,500 people through 24 subsidiary companies in Europe, northern Africa and North America.

More jobs are expected to come next year. Dettmers said expanding the Clipper operation will require new vessels, expanded shoreside operations and additional staff.

“There are no plans to make changes to the leadership and management teams at Clipper,” she added. “While there are no plans to change current staffing, FRS will become a tremendous resource for Clipper. Both companies will benefit from each other’s employees’ expertise.”

FRS would not comment on other North American markets it may be interested in, nor would it divulge details of the investment made to purchase the majority shares of Clipper.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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