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Critics pan plan for B.C. cable-driven ferry

Seaspan Vancouver Shipyards has won a $15-million bid to build the first cable-driven vessel in BC Ferries’ fleet.


A B.C. shipyard has won a $15-million bid to build the new cable ferry that will transport passengers to Denman Island along the longest cable route in the world, but local residents staunchly opposed to the development remain unconvinced the ferry can be built and maintained in a safe and efficient way.

The ferry to be built by Seaspan shipyard will be the first cable-driven vessel in BC Ferries' fleet. It will travel along 1.9 kilometres of cable, saving the corporation about $2-million a year and burning only a third of the fuel. It will replace the current propeller-driven ferry, which residents on Denman and Hornby islands rely on to commute to work and school between Denman and Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island.

The proposal also involves cutting local jo bs, as many of the cost savings come from labour.

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Peter Kimmerly, the former senior master of both Denman Island routes for BC Ferries and a Hornby Island resident, said the current proposal is "hopelessly underdesigned." He said the proposed vessel is not robust enough to withstand the route's conditions and cuts corners to save money.

"They've designed it for fictional conditions," said Mr. Kimmerly, who has 41 years of experience at sea. "This ferry is designed by bottom-line thinking at the expense of common sense. If we have the storm we had in 2006 [again], this thing will be up on the beach down by Comox."

Cable ferries are propelled between opposite docks by winches and water currents. Mark Wilson, vice-president of engineering at BC Ferries, is confident in the ferry's design and its ability to provide island residents with adequate service. He also highlighted the economic benefits of the new vessel.

"The biggest concern that we're hearing from all of our users across the [ferry] system is about the upward pressure on fares, and that they want us to do something about this," Mr. Wilson said. "This is something that we can do for all ferry users to reduce that pressure."

But Denman Island resident Laura Busheikin said concerns about the cable ferry are part of a larger dissatisfaction residents feel with ferry service, including fare increases and schedule cuts.

"It's just got the island feeling like we can't rely on anything in terms of transportation," she said. "I'm all for tightening our belts, but with ferries it's gone beyond tightening our belts to the point where it feels like, in a way, our communities are just being starved."

Seaspan is also preparing to build 15 vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and two for the Royal Canadian Navy.

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In combination with the successful Denman Island ferry bid, this means Seaspan will drop its bid to build three further intermediate-class ferries for BC Ferries. The four other bidders for those ships are all based in Europe. One of them, German firm FSG, has built four vessels for BC Ferries. They include the three so-called Super C class vessels, which sail between Tsawwassen and various Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands destinations, and the Northern Expedition, which sails between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy.

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