Ferries find new homes

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on September 26, 2011
The Hamilton Sound, once serving the St. Brendan’s run, was sold by the provincial government for $214,000 to a private contractor. — Telegram file photo

Two retired provincial ferries, the MV Hamilton Sound and MV Island Joiner, have been sold by the province.

One, the Island Joiner, has gone for about the cost of a compact car.

The ferries were among the oldest vessels in the provincial ferry fleet — the Hamilton Sound having been built in 1968 and the Island Joiner in 1973.

Both ferries were retired this spring, after two new made-right-here vessels were christened, coming as part of the provincial government’s vessel replacement strategy.

The retired ferries were put up for grabs this summer, by way of public tender.

That call for bidders closed Aug. 9.

The Island Joiner, having most recently served the Long Island-Pilley’s Island run, went for $17,777 and change, plus HST, to a private individual.

The Hamilton Sound, which served the St. Brendan’s run, was sold for $214,000, plus HST, to provincially-based R.J.G. Construction Ltd., a commercial and heavy civil contractor.

The company is works on specialized projects including wharf, dam or fishway construction and harbour dredging.

“The vessels are currently in Lewisporte awaiting finalization of change of registration,” a spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Works told The Telegram Sept. 15.

“The department does not know where the vessels will end up. What happens to them now is up to the owners.”

R.J.G. Construction was contacted by The Telegram about their purchased ferry, but declined requests for an interview or statement.

Long time coming

The replacement of both ferries follows years of costly maintenance and poor reviews.

In a 2004 news release, the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee stated the Hamilton Sound — filling in on runs to and from Bell Island at the time — was overdue for retirement.

In 2006, an independent review of the provincial ferry fleet, by consultant BMT Fleet Technology Ltd., said the then-38-year-old Hamilton Sound was subject to frequent breakdowns and costly repairs.

“The vessel was considered a top priority for replacement in 2003, for good reasons,” the report stated, warning of costly maintenance to come in order to deal with deck corrosion and replace engine room piping.

As for the Island Joiner, it was not always smooth sailing.

“Apart from widespread corrosion, the Island Joiner has many problems with the machinery,” the BMT report stated. “The machinery includes obsolete and very difficult to maintain pieces of equipment, such as the 1976 vintage 50 Hz generator. For these reasons, the Island Joiner is recommended for replacement before some older vessels in the fleet. As with Hamilton Sound, several more years of service could be achieved, but it may require significant and costly upgrades.”

At the time of the 2006 report, the life expectancy (useful life) of both vessels was estimated to be less than five years. The province invested the money required to keep both ferries safely in operation.

Despite their ongoing costs, both were utilized daily on the province’s marine highways. They were also tapped for use post-hurricane Igor for delivery of needed supplies to isolated coastal communities.

The two new ferries taking on the workload of the Hamilton Sound and Island Joiner are the MV Grace Sparkes and MV Hazel McIsaac. The 42-metre, 80-passenger vessels were built and christened at the Cow Head facility of Kiewit Offshore Services.

Eight additional new ferries have been promised as part of an ongoing vessel replacement strategy. That ferry replacement work continued this year, with a $39.3 million commitment in the 2011 provincial budget. The budget also includes $12.1 million for refits of provincial ferry vessels and $5 million for maintenance and upgrades to ferry terminals.

Overall spending on marine infrastructure comes in at $56.4 million.