BC Ferries plans to build three new ships to replace the two aging ferries currently servicing the Comox-Powell River and Southern Gulf Islands routes, and they might be powered by natural gas.
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 provincially-owned ferry corporation says Canadian and international shipyards will be invited to bid on the contracts to design and build the ships, and the contract will be awarded in January.
The first two larger ferries are expected to be in service in 2016, with the smaller ship arriving in 2017.
Vessels could be fueled by LNG
BC Ferries is still considering if the vessels will be powered by liquefied natural gas, and further technical and financial analyses will be required before a final decision is made, said CEO Mike Corrigan.
"There's obviously an environmental advantage, although we already burn ultra-low sulfur diesel, which is a very environmentally friendly product, but not as friendly as liquefied natural gas. But also there's a significant economic side — we could see a significant reduction in our fuel cost going forward."
Corrigan says another aim is to reduce costs by standardizing the vessels in the fleet.
"Improved operational efficiencies are also expected including lower crew training costs with standardized bridge, engine room and accommodation layouts, and lower maintenance costs with standardization of parts and equipment."