Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ferries - controversial and political - amended

For some reason ferries in this country almost always have some controversy associated with them, and they become political issues.

Quebec is no exception. As previously reported,[ ] the Matane to Baie-Comeau and Godbout ferry F.-A.-Gauthier was withdrawn from service before Christmas due to technical issues with its propulsion system. It was finally towed to the Davie yard in Lévis last week. Original estimates were that it would take two weeks in drydock to determine the problem. It seems now that correcting the problem may take even longer. A recent move by the Société des Traversiers du Québec [STQ] confirms that suggestion.

STQ came under heavy criticism for having no back up ship , and many other unfair comments about their service. Certainly the F.-A.Gauthier's problems (and this isn't the first) have caused huge inconveniences for travellers and truckers, but STQ has managed to cobble together an alternative, and has even agreed to compensation. Expecting them to have a back-up ferry available on short notice seems to me to be a bit much.

STQ was able to secure the interim services of CTMA Vacancier, but that will end February 1* [see addendum]. Now STQ has announced the purchase of Apollo from Labrador Marine Inc [Woodward Group] for the bargain basement price of $2.1mn. Expected to be a candidate for the scrappers, Apollo, dating from 1970, is likely the best and only option open on short notice.

Woodward's replacement ferry for the Apollo on the Strait of Belle Isle service from Blanc Sablon, QC to St.Barbe, NL  is now due in St.John's January 20. It is steadily making its way across the Atlantic at 10.6 knots, having stopped in Pta Delgada, Portugal on January 13.

The Qajaq W. is a two deck ferry, with one deck open to the weather. Built in 2010 as Muhumaa in Lithuania it measures 5233 gt. There have already been doubts expressed about its ability to service the demanding year round route, but it has been operating in the Baltic for all these years. It is an ice class 1A ship with a capacity for 300 passengers, 120 cars and 8 trucks. Apollo can carry 240 passengers, 80 cars and 6 tractor trailer.
To add insult to injury the Apollo had a fire in its starboard engine on January 15, one mile off Blanc Sablon and returned to port on one engine. Reports indicate that the damage was confined to the engine only, so it may be possible to repair it before February 1.

Canada's aging ferries on both coasts certainly are a cause for concern, and several new ships will be needed in the next very few years. It is unlikely however that many of them will be built in Canada.

The latest problems with the Nova Scotia - Maine service, where Portland had to be changed to Bar Harbor as the US port have been complicated by State of Maine and USA politics. If Nova Scotia agrees to pay for US border services in Bar Harbor, maybe they should pay them directly as they are getting no other pay right now.

A new ferry for Pelee Island in Lake Erie has still not entered service despite being delivered from Chile in June of 2018 (and that was a few months late). Red tape from Transport Canada is blamed, but I am sure there is more to it than that. Chile is a free trade partner with Canada, but apparently there are still problems since the ship was not classified or surveyed by Lloyd's Register before its arrival. It may enter service in the spring.

Several other ferries are due or overdue for replacement including the Northumberland Strait ferries. That is likely to resolved with a pre-federal election promise sometime this spring.

Also the previously mentioned Trans-St-Laurent is still soldiering on after 56 years in service. Davie is eager to build a new one, but there is demand for year round capability, so that may be an expensive proposition as Rivière-du-Loup is very shallow and not exactly ice free. It may have to dock in Cacouna in the winter - possibly with icebreaker assistance.

On it goes.

* Addendum
In a surprise move the Quebec provincial government cancelled the permssion given by the previous government to seek a replacement for CTMA Vacancier. Madelinots are aghast that after many consultations with the ancien regime, that the new government would reset the process to zero.
It's always political.

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