A ferry sold by the provincial government two years ago is among those vessels under consideration to temporarily take passengers while the ferry serving Change Islands and Fogo Island undergoes a three-month refit.
The MV Captain Earl W. Winsor is scheduled to be taken out of service at the end of September. Its refit is scheduled to take
12-16 weeks, according to the Department of Transportation and Works.
The Norcon Galatea — a vessel that was named the MV Hamilton Sound when it was owned by the provincial government — is among those vessels under consideration to provide short-term help.
“While no decisions have been made, officials with our department have had recent discussions with a variety of vessel owners, including the current owners of the vessel formerly known as the Hamilton Sound,” said a spokeswoman for Transportation and Works.
“We are considering any and all options as we seek the availability of vessels for short-term or medium-term consideration.”
The province sold the vessel in 2011 to R.J.G. Construction Ltd. for $214,000. It appears the vessel was later sold to Norcon Marine Services Ltd. and renamed the Norcon Galatea.
Previous media reports indicate the ship was built in 1968. An entry for the vessel on the Canadian Transportation Agency’s website lists its year of registry as 1973.
The website says the vessel can hold 18 cars and three trucks. The vessel’s listed passenger capacity is 75.
It was NDP MHA George Murphy who first told The Telegram that the former Hamilton Sound could be rejoining the provincial ferry fleet.
“I got a couple of notes from people that are saying that there’s a possibility that the Hamilton Sound could be coming back and doing the run on Bell Island,” said the MHA for St. John’s East.
“I have no doubt that they’re a little bit desperate to try and find something that’s going to plug a gap.”
When the Captain Earl W. Winsor was taken out of service in June for an underwater survey and inspection, the MV Beaumont Hamel was dispatched to temporarily handle the Fogo Island ferry run. The latter vessel is one of two that typically serves Bell Island alongside the MV Flanders.
The Hamilton Sound’s latter years in the provincial ferry fleet were tumultuous. A 2006 independent review of the province’s ferry fleet by BMT Fleet Technology Ltd. said the vessel was subject to frequent breakdowns and expensive repairs.
“The vessel was considered a top priority for replacement in 2003, for good reasons,” said the report, which recommended the Hamilton Sound’s replacement within a five-year period. That five-year recommendation was also applicable to the Captain Earl W. Winsor.
In 2004, the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee said in a news release that the vessel was overdue for retirement.
The vessel’s age is one issue of concern for Murphy. He also questions its seaworthiness.
“She is very old. She’s run her course, and now she’s potentially being asked to run another. I guess trusting this boat’s abilities in the open Atlantic would certainly be a concern with some people.”
The department spokeswoman said it is challenging to find ships on the open market that are built to navigate Newfoundland and Labrador’s marine environment. She also noted that a request for proposals has been issued to construct two new vessels, one of which would replace the Captain Earl W. Winsor.
Murphy called the province’s vessel replacement strategy a failure. The strategy has thus far delivered two new vessels — the MV Grace Sparkes and the MV Hazel McIsaac.
The Telegram attempted to contact Norcon Marine Services owner and president Glenn Burry, but he could not be reached for comment.