Government still paying for ferry it sold in 2011

James McLeod
Published on June 30, 2014
The Norcon Galatea, formerly the Hamilton Sound. — Telegram file photo

If it were a civil servant, it would’ve qualified for retirement and a pension years ago, but the Norcon Galatea is still hard at work for the provincial government — years after the auditor general identified it as too old for the province’s ferry fleet

The Galatea, formerly known as the Hamilton Sound, is 45 years old, and it’s currently serving as a fill-in swing vessel on the run to St. Brendan’s, near Glovertown. It’s expected to work that run until late July, when the Grace Sparkes comes back into service from routine maintenance.

Opposition politicians are saying the story of the Galatea is quickly turning into a boondoggle, but Transportation Minister Nick McGrath said this week he’s still convinced that the way the government has managed the ferry fleet is getting good value for taxpayers.

Back in 2011, the provincial government sold the ferry to Norcon Marine for $214,000, and the private company put between $1-$2 million into overhauling the ship — rebuilding the engine and gearboxes, putting in a new ramp, and doing a host of other upgrades.

Since then, Norcon has leased the ferry back to the government as a fill-in vessel, and as of March, the taxpayers paid Norcon $814,113 for using the ferry.

“We want to see the contract and see the financial analysis that was used by government when they disposed of it,” Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said. “What logic did government use to make this decision?”

New Democrat MHA George Murphy pointed out the auditor general raised red flags about the vessel — then known as the Hamilton Sound, and still owned by the government — in 2010.

At the time, then-auditor general John Noseworthy reported the expected life of a ferry is about 25 years, but the Hamilton Sound had been in service for 41 years. Noseworthy wrote the ferry-replacement plan of the government “is inadequate in that it is, primarily, reactive and poorly documented.”

In addition to the Galatea, the provincial government also just signed a $2-million, two-year contract with Norcon Marine for the Challenge One — a 39-year-old ferry which was also flagged for concern by Noseworthy back in 2010.

“The government should be consulting with the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and let them know what their intentions are as regards to replacing the rest of the boats that are in the fleet,” Murphy said. “Right now, it has to be stuck with the Hamilton Sound because it’s probably the only one out there.”

But McGrath said that the government’s main swing vessel is the Sound of Islay — also 45 years old, and also mentioned by Noseworthy in 2010 — and it’s expensive to keep and maintain a backup swing vessel just in case the government needs it intermittently.

“History has proven that rather than having one in your inventory, you’re better off leasing one for a short period of time,” McGrath said.

He pointed out the government has spent millions in recent years building new ferries to renew the provincial fleet.

That being said, McGrath wouldn’t rule out using the Norcon Galatea somewhere else if it’s needed, once it finishes up on the St. Brendan’s run in July.

“If there are requirements there and we have a need for another swing vessel and the Galatea is the best option that we have at that time, well then we’ll consider using it,” McGrath said.