B.C.'s fast ferries sell for virtually nothing

B.C. sells its controversial fast ferries for $19 million.

Taxpayers in British Columbia have received almost nothing for a fleet of fast ferries sold at auction on Monday.

Three aluminum-hulled catamarans designed to carry cars and people between the mainland and Vancouver Island fetched just pennies on the dollar. They were sold at auction after the government couldn't find a buyer.

An anonymous North America bidder bought all three ships.

It took $450 million to build the three ships, but they sold for a total of just over $19 million.

After auction fees and storage costs, the government will be left with next to nothing.

Doug Allen, who is in charge of the B.C. Ferry Corporation, says there was no alternative but to sell the ships at the unreserved auction.

"We've been at this for two years, and during that time there was not an offer given to us that was acceptable and could be closed," he said.

The former NDP government commissioned the ships, which were supposed to improve service and spark the B.C. shipbuilding industry. In the end they did neither, and a host of problems left them tied to the dock.

Gordon Wilson, a former NDP cabinet minister, blasted the sale. "State-of-the-art vessels being sold for scrap value is a much bigger scandal than building them in the first place," said Wilson.

But B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell defended the sale. He called the fast ferries program a "debacle" and said they simply should never have been built in the first place.