German yard gets another piece of BC

B.C. Ferries awards German firm $133 million contract to build northern ferry

VANCOUVER (CP) - B.C. Ferries has signed a contract with a German firm to build a new ferry for its northern route, and says it's only days from buying another vessel for the same run. It's all in an effort to fill the void left after the sinking of the Queen of the North last March that killed two passengers. B.C. Ferries has picked the firm Flensburger Schiffbau to build the $133 million vessel to replace the aging Queen of Prince Rupert.

It's the same firm, headquartered in the northern city of Flensburg, that has a $542-million contract to build three Super C class vessels for B.C. Ferries. The announcement angered George MacPherson, head of B.C. Shipyard General Workers' Federation. "We've given them now over $700 million worth of work that should have stayed in Canada and Canadian shipyards," he said Friday. "I find that to be absolutely disgusting and I question where the federal government is on these types of contracts."

But B.C. Ferries president David Hahn said they gave Canadian firms the opportunity to bid on the ship but none could meet the accelerated time line. "From our stand point, we've got a need to build these, and do it right away," he said. "And I think we've done a really good job of saving the people of British Columbia a lot of money." The contract guarantees the completion date, allows for penalties for late delivery and allows for 80 per cent of the payment when the ship is complete. Hahn said many ship builders just couldn't meet the deadline. "Once we went through the event of the Queen of the North we accelerated this at a very, very fast pace," Hahn said.

There was good competition in tendering for the latest vessel between Flensburger and a Finnish shipyard. MacPherson said the awarding of the contract to an international firm is a disturbing pattern for B.C. Ferries in the last few years. "I question what they're going to do in the future if they keep going this way, because there won't be an industry here to respond to their needs," he said. "They'll have vessels breaking down, there will be nobody left to do the repairs on those vessels."

The new vessel will operate between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert along the Inside Passage. It's the same route where the Queen of the North, carrying about 100 passengers and crew, ploughed into an island and sank in less than an hour. Two passengers disappeared and were presumed to have gone down with the ship.

While service has been cut in half because of the accident, Hahn said they'll have another vessel ready for next spring no matter what happens. "We're in very, very final stages of looking to acquire a vessel, the Sonia out of Europe." That two-year-old vessel had been sailing between Trinidad and Tobago until last spring. "But there is one last condition that has to be removed," Hahn added, saying they hope to confirm the sale in the next week to 10 days.

But if that agreement fails, B.C. Ferries also has a plan to lease another ship which would be ready for early next year. Both ships would need renovations before they could be used on the route. "So one way or the other we're going to have a vessel replacing the Queen of the North for next summer," Hahn confirmed.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the sinking of the Queen of the North. Hahn said the board received most of the information it needed with the latest dive on the wreck, removing the computer hard drive and other equipment. "I've tried to stay away from the speculation and let them conduct they're full, professional investigation," Hahn said.