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B.C. ferries will head to Poland for refits

With shipyards in Vancouver and Victoria both choked with work, B.C. Ferries will for the first time send vessels offshore for refits in 2017. A Polish shipyard has won a $140-million contract from B.C.
Spirit of Vancouver Island photo
Spirit of Vancouver Island was built in 1994.

With shipyards in Vancouver and Victoria both choked with work, B.C. Ferries will for the first time send vessels offshore for refits in 2017.

A Polish shipyard has won a $140-million contract from B.C. Ferries to conduct the mid-life upgrades of the two Spirit-class vessels.

Gdansk-based Remontowa, the largest ship-repair yard in Poland, won the contract after a competitive bidding process.

B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall confirmed it is the first time the corporation has sent a vessel offshore for refit.

“But this isn’t just a refit, it’s a massive project, not the typical refit that we do,” she said.

The upgrades include converting the Spirit of Vancouver Island and Spirit of British Columbia to dual-fuel so that they can operate on liquefied natural gas in addition to diesel.

Both vessels will also have their safety features — marine-evacuation systems, rescue boats, fire-detection system, public-address system and fire-protection system — upgraded and their navigation and propulsion equipment renewed.

Passenger areas will also get an upgrade, with new designs, washrooms, expanded gift shops and new coffee bars.

Mark Wilson, B.C. Ferries’ vice-president of engineering, said during the last fiscal year, B.C. Ferries spent $118 million on diesel fuel, 16 per cent of which was consumed by the two Spirit-class vessels. “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,” he said.

Wilson said the move will also reduce the corporation’s environmental footprint, since using LNG in the two vessels will cut carbon-dioxide emissions by an estimated 12,000 tonnes annually.

Remontowa won the contract after being short-listed for the job alongside Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyard and another site.

Seaspan pulled out of the bidding process, however, since its three shipyards — Vancouver, Victoria and its drydock — are too busy to handle the work.

“We are at capacity at all three yards, and the National Shipbuilding Strategy work we are doing for the federal government is a major priority for us,” said Seaspan Shipyards president Brian Carter in a statement. As part of that strategy, Seaspan is building new coast guard, fisheries and non-combat naval vessels.

The first ferry to be upgraded in Poland will be the Spirit of British Columbia, built in 1993. That work will start in fall 2017 and is expected to be completed in spring 2018.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island, built in 1994, will follow in fall 2018, with work expected to be completed in spring 2019.

Both vessels will sail to Poland and back under their own power, though B.C. Ferries will hire a professional ship-delivery company to crew the vessels.

Between 2007 and 2009, B.C. Ferries used Netherlands-based Redwise Global Ship Delivery to move the three Coastal-class vessels and the Northern Expedition to the Island from Germany.

The Spirit-class ferries will go through the Panama Canal, but Marshall said the precise route to Poland and back will be determined by the ship-delivery company.

Marshall said 45 days have been budgeted for the trip to Poland, which includes time to wait out bad weather. Temporary living quarters will be installed on both vessels to house B.C. Ferries staff and the ship-delivery crew.

aduffy@timescolonist.com