A vital replacement and a very iconic vessel

Mark MacDonald, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Ferries Holdings Limited, explains to Justin Merrigan what a new ship will mean to subsidiary Bay Ferries

A vital replacement and a very iconic vessel
The vessel currently known as Canada 2014 is the former Greek-flagged Blue Star Ithaki

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats

Canada’s Bay of Fundy communities are set to welcome the long-awaited replacement for the veteran Princess of Acadia into service between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia this summer.

The crossing is a significant contributor not only to the Canadian economy but also to the wider Atlantic economy so the importance of the route cannot be underestimated, a fact understood by the federal government. In addition to the cost of the Transport Canada-owned ferry, the Digby-Saint John run receives an operating subsidy as part of the government’s commitment to interprovincial transportation. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also contribute to the service, operated by Bay Ferries of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

The ship, currently temporarily known as the Canada 2014, is the former Greek-flagged Blue Star Ithaki, built by South Korea’s Daewoo Heavy Industries in 2000. With a length of 124m she has capacity for 1,317 passengers and 245 cars. Power is supplied by four Wärtsilä NSD 9L32 engines. Operating at 750rpm, these main engines give an output of 4,140kW each. There are also three Wärtsilä NSD 6L20 auxiliary engines. Operating at 1,000rpm, these have an output of 990kW each. The engines are linked to two 3.9m diameter Kamewa propellers, working at 185rpm. This gives a maximum speed of 25 knots or a service speed of 24 knots. For manoeuvring, there is also a Kamewa 950kW bow thruster.

Before making her commercial debut the ship is being modified in Canada to meet Canadian rules for shipping. Engine work will see a 72,000-hour overhaul and the conversion of the machinery from heavy fuel to marine diesel. The ship also benefits from accommodation modifications to tailor her for service between Saint John and Digby, which is a key part of the transport system in Eastern Canada.

Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Ferries Holdings Limited, of which operator Bay Ferries is just one subsidiary, is Mark MacDonald. “The Canada 2014 launches the next era for the Bay of Fundy ferry service,” he says.

“In addition to moving a wide variety of local traffic, two crucial aspects to the service are moving tourist traffic across the Bay of Fundy – one of the world’s ecological treasures and Canada’s greatest tourist attractions – and moving industrial products (most notably fresh fish exports from Nova Scotia) to US, Canadian and local markets.”

With an improving US economy and the Canadian dollar at a five-year low, seafood producers can anticipate higher exports to the US and with Digby being just an hour’s drive from the border, the service will be a key part of that strategy.

“The ship came to our company’s attention in 2011 when we thought asset replacement might occur using a private company ownership model,” says MacDonald.

“In 2013, when it was determined that the government asset ownership model would be employed (with charter to the operator), the ship came to the attention of Transport Canada as part of their competitive procurement process,” he explains. According to Transport Canada, the purchase followed an extensive evaluation process, which involved identifying and assessing the suitability of candidate vessels from all over the world, including Canada.

The Canadian government duly purchased the ship from Attica Holdings S.A. of Greece for a total cash consideration of €31.2 million (CA$44.6 million). She was selected as representing the best value for Canadians and having the capacity to meet the operational requirements of the Saint John-Digby service.

Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, said of the purchase, “Our government understands the importance of this ferry service to the local community and economy in support of regional trade and tourism.

“This replacement vessel will ensure the continued safe, reliable and efficient operation of the service while creating jobs and supporting the local economy.” They have selected well for as the Blue Star Ithaki, she was very much a landmark ship when she arrived on the Greek ferry scene and there is no question that she has been received in Canada with great excitement. Ahead of her time when built, the ship is likely to have another twenty years’ operation ahead of her. The Blue Star Ithaki left an enormous mark on the communities she served in Greece and her departure caused great sorrow for the residents.

Upon her last arrival in Syros, the crew bid a touching farewell to the islanders by sailing close to the island’s west coast and sounding its whistle.

Mark MacDonald shares his observation, “At a human level, it has been a nice transition so far. Our senior crew were present to see the farewells in Greece and were deeply touched. In turn, senior Greek crew accompanied our crew on the delivery voyage as supernumeraries. They got to see their ship’s new home, and we were able to feed them some world-famous Nova Scotia seafood!”

In addition to Bay Ferries MacDonald is also responsible for Atlantic Ferries Holdings Limited subsidiaries. The group’s operating companies are Northumberland Ferries Limited – which operates the Prince Edward Island-Nova Scotia ferry service across the Northumberland Strait; Bay Ferries Limited – which operates the Saint John-Digby ferry service across the Bay of Fundy; and Bay Ferries Management Limited, which has undertaken a variety of mostly international ship management assignments, the largest of which in recent years has been the Trinidad & Tobago high-speed ferry service which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Operated by two Incat-built wave piercing catamarans, the T&T Express and the T&T Spirit, the fast-ferry service revolutionised passenger services between Port of Spain and Scarborough and for the first time Trinidad & Tobago’s seabridge became a reliable and predictable transportation alternative to air travel.

“This year is our 75th year in business. We look forward to the next 75 – wherever in the world they may take us,” MacDonald says.

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Justin Merrigan
By Justin Merrigan
Thursday, June 18, 2015