BC Ferries has confirmed it plans to commission three new vessels that will be able to operate on liquid natural gas, but there is no guarantee they will be built in B.C.

The ferry company announced three months ago it planned to build the ferries to replace the vessels currently operating on the Tsawwassen – Southern Gulf Islands route and the Comox – Powell River route.

On Monday the company confirmed the vessels would be built to operate using both liquid natural gas and marine diesel.

“We expect to operate these new intermediate class ferries with LNG, which will reduce our fuel costs, and in turn help reduce the upward pressure on fares," said vice president of engineering Mark Wilson in a statement issued Monday morning.

"In addition, we expect to reduce our environmental footprint with a cleaner fuel source.

"While other ferry operators have already adopted LNG as a fuel source, these will be the first ships in our fleet to utilize this natural resource which is abundant here in British Columbia."

BC Ferries says using LNG could cut fuel costs by 50 per cent, based on current market rates and reduce greenhouse gas emission and air pollution. The ferry company spent about $121 million on fuel last year.

Five shipbuilding companies have been shortlisted to bid on the design and construction of the ships, but only one Canadian company made the shortlist, which included:

  • Norway's Fiskerstrand Blrt As.
  • Germany's Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft mbH & Co.KG.
  • Poland's Remontowa Shipbuilding S.A.
  • Canada's Seaspan Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd.
  • Turkey's Sefine Shipyard.

BC Ferries says the new vessels are part of a plan to build future vessels to fit five classes, in order to standardize equipment, maintenance and training, and to increase flexibility within the fleet.

Smaller vessels planned

According to the earlier announcement this year, two of the ferries will be designed to carry 145 cars and 600 passengers on each of the routes.

A third smaller ferry, designed to carry 125 cars and 600 passengers, will be used to add extra sailings to the Southern Gulf Islands route during peak times, and to provide refit relief for the two larger ferries.

The two main vessels will be smaller than those they are replacing. The Queen of Burnaby and Queen of Nanaimo, which were built in 1965 and 1964, both carry 192 cars and 996 passengers and crew.

The smaller size of the two main ferries will help cut costs during the winter months, while the third ferry will provide even greater capacity on the Southern Gulf island route in the summer.

The first two larger ferries are expected to be in service in 2016, with the smaller ship arriving in 2017.