For two years, other than a monthly trip out to sea to keep the engines running and systems maintained, the Empress catamaran that used to ferry passengers between Victoria and Vancouver has been moored just below the CPR Steamship Terminal building.
And that’s likely where it will sit for a while, as the market for tourism-oriented vessels remains cold while the pandemic continues.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, people aren’t moving around as much and people need to be moving around to run one of these,” said Harry Mose of Pacific Boat Brokers, which has listed the Empress for sale at $4.8 million US, down from an initial $6 million US.
Mose said in just over a year that the vessel has been on the market, he has fielded some calls and had two serious inquiries from North American buyers, but no one has followed through.
“I had some guys about a year ago look at everything and, in the end, because of COVID, they were too nervous their numbers wouldn’t work, so they walked away,” he said.
Mose said other segments of the marine vessel market have been strong during the pandemic, with dealers selling out of smaller boats that cater to families, as well as higher-end vessels selling for about $500,000.
“The rest of the market, though, has been real quiet,” he said.
The Empress was completely rebuilt and kitted out in 2016, with brand new diesel engines installed in 2018.
Mose said it’s almost in new condition. Victoria-based Prism Marine, the authorized representative for the vessel on behalf of Australian-based owners Riverside Marin, takes the vessel out for sea trials each month and ensures it’s kept in top condition, said Prism founder Jordan Pechie.
“We are basically in charge of keeping it hot,” he said. “Every vessel that maintains its certification has to maintain its maintenance systems, so we maintain the vessel and take it out.”
Pechie said it’s only a tough sell because it’s a tourist-related vessel.
It has been nearly two years since Riverside Marine, citing a deep financial hole that was only getting bigger, pulled the plug on its V2V Vacations passenger ferry service between Victoria and Vancouver.
Its 126-foot Empress features leather seating in three classes — 22 seats in what Riverside called Royal Class, 74 in First Class and 160 in Premium Comfort — with flip-out or built-in tables, power outlets at each seat and wi-fi.
The 24 built-in tables feature wooden topographic outlines of Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver and the Salish Sea, designed and assembled by artist and boat builder Jerry Kool.
The service, launched in May 2017, was cancelled after just two and a half years in business.
Riverside did not respond to requests for comment.
Island Ferry Services, which has been vowing to run foot-passenger ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver for years, did not respond to a question about whether it’s interested in the vessel.