B.C.-built Spirit ferry going to Poland for refit, dual-fuel conversion

The Spirit of British Columbia ferry, which sails on the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, has been pulled from service and sent to Richmond to prepare for a transatlantic voyage to Poland for a multimillion-dollar refit.

A wave-breaker is being installed at B.C. Ferries’ fleet maintenance yard to help mitigate the impact of strong waves on the 548-foot-long vessel.

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It is to pull out at 10 a.m. on Tuesday for the first leg of its trip to the Panama Canal.

The second stage takes the B.C.-built ferry to the Canary Islands, and the final stage will see it arrive at the Remontowa Ship Repair Yard S.A., at Gdansk, Poland.

This voyage should take 42 days, providing weather co-operates.

If rough weather arises, the ship can head into port until it passes or it might reroute to avoid it, B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said Wednesday.

The Spirit of British Columbia will be back in B.C. in spring 2018. After the summer season, the Spirit of Vancouver Island will head out in the fall for the same work, returning to service in spring 2019. B.C. Ferries has pegged the total refit budget at $140 million.

The two vessels, each with a passenger-and-crew capacity of 2,100, are the biggest in B.C. Ferries’ fleet.

Mid-life improvements are expected to keep the Spirit vessels in service for another 25 years. The Spirit of British Columbia was launched in 1993 and its sister ship a year later. They are used on the busiest route in the system, the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen run.

Installation of a dual fuel system is a major part of the refit.

The Spirit ferries will be able to run on liquefied natural gas or ultra-low sulphur marine diesel. The three new Salish-class ferries were built from the beginning to run on dual-fuel systems.

B.C. Ferries said that by using natural gas on the Spirit-class vessels it will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12,000 tonnes per year, the equivalent of taking about 2,500 vehicles off the road. Natural gas also costs less than diesel.

Redwise, of the Netherlands, has been contracted to deliver the ship and will have 14 crew on board. Of those, 12 are Canadians, Marshall said.

B.C. Ferries will have a captain and an engineer on each leg of the trip to represent the corporation, she said.

Crew members will sleep in the offices of senior officers and in state rooms, and bunks are being put up in the children’s play area. The crew change rooms already have showers and the ferries have their own kitchens for the cook that’s going along.

The Spirit vessels will get upgraded passenger areas, washrooms and elevators and expanded gift shops.

Improvements are planned for electrical and mechanical systems. These include emergency communication systems, navigation and propulsion equipment, bow thrusters, propeller blades, LED lighting and air conditioning that uses less energy.

There is some criticism about sending the ships offshore for a refit. George MacPherson, president of the Shipyard General Workers’ Federation, a union representing trades, said the work could have been done in B.C. One B.C. company, Seaspan of North Vancouver, had expressed interest in the contract but then pulled out, saying it was too busy to handle the work.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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