Big news from Marine Atlantic last week, that they have done a deal with Stena to acquire two RoPax ferries for charter and option to purchase, as replacements for the aged Caribou and Joseph and Clara Smallwood.
This is good news for Newfoundland travellers and truckers, but it will likely not be well received by the shipbuilding fraternity. However as Shipfax has reported in the past, the only yard in eastern Canada that is physically large enough to build ships such as these, is in no position to do so. Davie Yards in Quebec is under creditor protection and is looking at an infusion of capital (or sale) to survive. Even that is in doubt. West coast yards were not competitive in recent large ferry orders for BC Ferries, but have done well with smaller ferries for BC and are getting navy refit work. They also need more work to survive, but will be in the running if the navy ever gets around to building its new supply ships.
Back to Marine Atlantic Inc (MAI) . They have chartered for 5 years, with two 5 year extensions, and option to purchase, the large Freight and Passenger Ferries (RoPax) Stena Trader and Stena Traveller. Built in 2006 and 2007 they currently trade between Killingholme, England and Hoek van Holland. MAI have dubbed these the Seabridge class. They measure some 26,660 gross tons, and will be refitted (at least in part, in Europe one assumes) for MAI service in 2011.
The ships will have to be shortened 12.5m to fit the Port aux Basques terminal. This may not be as hard as it sounds, since they were both apparently lengthened for the present UK/Netherlands service.
When ready, they will accommodate 2,840 lane meters for cars and trucks. They will also have new passenger lounges added to increase capacity from 300 to 1,0000 persons (including crew) They presently have 50x4 bed rooms and 50x2 bed rooms, which will not change by the sound of things.
Capable of 20 knots or so, they are efficient modern vessels, fitted with stabilizers, and were built partly in Russia and partly in Norway. They have two level bow and stern loading, and unusual for the Cabot Strait area, large open car decks aft. How these will work out in the winter is a good question. In any event they have the capacity to handle passengers, cars, trucks and drop trailers to meet present and some future demand.
While no names have been selected yet, one can only hope that recent suggestions are not followed (John and Jane Crosbie and Brian and Mila Mulroney carry far too much baggage for even ships of this size!) Marine Atlantic's most recent ferry acquisition, Atlantic Vision, was named after a competition was held. This seems as good a method as any (although it did lack "Vision" in my opinion). I also fervently hope that the Caribou II or other such recent naming trends are not followed. That would be chickening out in my opinion. Pick a good solid and unique name and be proud of it.
As part of this process of acquiring new ships, the present Atlantic Vision has made some changes. Eighteen passenger cabins have been removed, freeing up space for 113 reclining sleeper chairs. This may allay the criticisms raised after its first season in service, that it did not cater to day passengers. In the 2010 season it will continue to run to Port aux Basques, but in 2011 it will run to Argentia, a service it is far better suited to in view of its large cabin capacity.
It is good to see Marine Atlantic moving ahead. For far too long it has been a political animal that has been kicked around and abused beyond reason. Finally they can see a clear future. Realistically no Canadian-built ships would be ready in any reasonable amount of time, and would cost the world. So MAI have turned to long time partners Stena (which has supplied many ships to MAI and CN Marine over the years) for some good ships, built with European experience and quality. How they will fare in winter remains a big question in my mind, but no ships are perfect, and solutions will be worked out.
See Marine Atlantic's web site for some interesting info and images: