Polish shipyard cuts steel on LNG-powered vessels for B.C. Ferries

The first of three new intermediate-class vessels for B.C. Ferries is now under construction at a Gdansk shipyard on the Baltic Sea.

Steel was cut for the first time on Friday, marking the start of construction of modules that will make up the hull. B.C. Ferries officials were on hand for the ceremony at Remontowa Shipbuilding S.A. in northern Poland.

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B.C. Ferries is paying Remontowa $165 million to design, build and deliver the ferries. The first is expected to arrive in late summer 2016.

“It’s exciting that we are able to replace some assets that are approaching 50 years of age,” Mark Wilson, vice-president of engineering for B.C. Ferries, said Monday.

“These will be a significant advancement forward in terms of technology that is going to drive operational efficiencies and improve elements of safety.”

The first ship will replace the 49-year-old Queen of Burnaby, operating between Comox and Powell River. The next ship will take over for the 50-year-old Queen of Nanaimo, which serves the Southern Gulf Islands-Tsawwassen route. The third vessel will be used in peak and shoulder seasons on the Southern Gulf Islands run and to serve as a relief vessel.

The ferries will be the first in the fleet to rely on liquefied natural gas, with low-sulphur diesel fuel as a backup.

Polish news agencies covered the start of the Ferries job, pointing out the economic value of the contract. Remontowa is considered a global leader in LNG-powered vessels.

But to some British Columbians, the province’s ferries should always be built in B.C. Seaspan was the only Canadian company shortlisted for the job, but it withdrew due to the demands of other work required for the federal government.

The new ferries’ general hull shape has been determined even though the entire ship design has still to be completed, Wilson said. All the ferries will be identical — 351 feet long, with capacity of 145 vehicles and 600 passengers.

Next on the agenda is the keel-laying ceremony planned in March. After that, the major hull will be launched, likely in November, he said.

A significant amount of work takes place after the hull goes in the water. “All of the superstructure of the vessel is put on. All your main machinery and auxiliary systems go into the vessel and are hooked up and wired up,” Wilson said.

By June 2016, the vessel should be ready for harbour trials. All the systems, such as electrical distribution, fresh water and communications, will be tested individually, he said. That will be followed by testing of integrated systems, such as starting and stopping the main engines and testing bridge control.

Then it will be on to sea trials, where a vessel’s performance is examined while on the water. The ship will probably be delivered in August 2016 when it will be formally accepted by B.C. Ferries. Up until it arrives here, the shipyard owns it.

For the second vessel, steel will be cut in April, followed by keel-laying in June and a launch in January 2016. Steel will be cut on the third vessel in July of this year, followed by keel-laying in September and a launch in May 2016.

B.C. Ferries has set up an office in Gdansk for the duration of the project. There are two Ferries staff and that will grow in the next few months to five or six staff, Wilson said.

Those staffers are working with 300 drawings, covering about 10 major categories, that need to be finalized, Wilson said. These include hull, electrical and ventilation systems. Wilson expects it will take another two to three months to reach the design-finalization stage.

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