The Fogo Island-Change Islands run will get a new ferry in September 2015, under a contract with Damen Shipbuilding, announced this morning at Confederation Building in St. John’s.
Representatives for the Liberals and NDP were on hand to hear the news, later applauding the Progressive Conservative government for taking a step forward in replacing the province’s aging ferries.
Yet both Liberal MHA Tom Osborne and NDP MHA George Murphy quickly moved to question the fact the province’s next ferry will be built at a shipyard in either The Netherlands or Romania, rather than in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s obviously good news the province is getting new ferries. We’ve been calling for action on the ferry replacement program for some time,” Osborne told reporters, immediately following the announcement.
“There is some disappointment none of the components are being built in the province.”
He said there may be an added cost to building the ferries in this province, but there is also additional benefit, in the form of employment opportunities and skills transfer between tradespeople. He asked the PC government to try to ensure some local work for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on future shipbuilding contracts.
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A ‘death knell’ for shipbuilding
Murphy used more damning words, as he characterized the new ferry deal as a lost opportunity for local shipbuilding.
“It’s probably the death knell of the Newfoundland and Labrador shipbuilding industry. That was the first reaction,” he said.
“It’s great that we’re getting boats. No question about it. It’s great that we’re getting new boats. The crews that are out there now are sailing in junk essentially ... so it’s good to see some progress happening here, but it’s still a long ways off,” he said.
The contract with Damen Shipbuilding, based in The Netherlands, for the province’s new 200-passenger ferry is valued at $51 million.
It was awarded to Damen after negotiations that followed an international request for proposals, wherein 15 detailed responses were received, according to provincial Transportation Minister Nick McGrath.
"There has been a lot of work that has gone into it,” he said this morning, of the work by government staff to seal a deal for the replacement for the MV Earl Winsor.
When asked about building the ship in Newfoundland and Labrador, or even in Canada, Damen Shipyards’ North American representative, Jan W van Hogerwou, said building here would have jacked up the price.
He said about five months of further engineering work will be completed and either a shipyard in Romania or Netherlands will be selected as the construction site for the new ferry.
Ultimately, the project was sent outside the province almost a year ago, after the provincial government became frustrated with negotiations around pricing and payment on new ferries with Kiewit in Marystown and launched an international search for shipbuilders.
McGrath confirmed Kiewit did not respond to that international request for proposals for the new Fogo ferry build.
Promises for Bell Island and Labrador
Meanwhile, $10 million in additional spending was announced this morning, for upgrades to the wharves at Bell Island and Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s. McGrath also said negotiations were underway with Damen for a second ferry, to be put onto the Bell Island run.
"I know this is going to be a historic day for people in my community,” said that area’s MHA David Brazil, who was at the table for the government announcement.
But that contract has yet to be detailed and signed.
“There’s still a question with regards to the timelines for when the rest of the ferry boats will be replaced,” Murphy said, wondering about other promised upgrades to the ferry service to Labrador, and along the Labrador coast.
Those upgrades, with a new boat for the coast, were promised to be completed for 2016, but a request for proposals has yet to be issued.
Sarah Leo, the president of the Nunatsiavut Government, representing communities of people along the Labrador coast, has already publicly questioned why the provincial government has not moved ahead with the Labrador ferry RFP —to include a roll-on, roll-off passenger vehicle ferry — announced by then-Minister of Transportation Paul Davis in December 2012.
Leo, in a Twitter posting this morning, said: “Just an RFP for ferries for Labrador would be exciting at this point, contract would be amazing!”
McGrath has said the request for proposals is coming and he is hoping to have it out shortly, but did not commit to any specific dates.