German Ferries vs the FastCats

The Tyee has written a article on the problems of the German built ferries. The mainstream media hasn't ,or refuses to, pick up on these problems.

While researching the fast cats a while back I found the following report at saveourferries.com

Sold for Peanuts


Kvaerner Masa Marine

The following is the introduction segment taken from a report written by Kvaerner Masa Marine on the rehabilitation of the Fast Cats...



The BC Ferry Corporation, on instruction from the BC Government, built 3 high-speed car-carrying catamarans for service between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay on Vancouver Island. This construction program was intended to stimulate shipbuilding in BC and meet the capital replacement needs of the Corporation. The vessels, however, did not meet operational requirements and have been withdrawn from service and offered for sale internationally.

This decision, however, may not be in the public or BC Ferry Corporations' best interests as the vessels could serve residents, tourists and commercial vehicle operators very efficiently for many years.

Indeed cats have many lives.

It appears than only a few options have been offered to date for the use of the catamarans.

These include:

1. Sell to a third party. This option has produced no apparent results and fair market value will not be obtained,

2. Re-power with gas turbines to realise higher speeds. This option is capital intensive and would produce even higher operating costs given the current high price of fuel,

3. Reduce speed of operation to about 22 knots and operate the vessels, with some interior modifications on the originally intended route. This alternative, apparently the BCFC's fall-back position would provide supplementary summer service for passenger vehicles only - Operational costs remain high, vessels are not optimised, but this option is preferable to the other two.

But there is a fourth and much better option, that is to give the Cats a new life. This would entail modifying the catamaran to carry all types of traffic, increase overall vehicle capacity, effect passenger space improvements and reduce operating costs. All of these can be achieved with the three new catamaran ferries.

Importantly, the private sector has indicated a strong willingness to be involved in such a plan, providing capital to purchase and lease the vessel, effect modifications and provide long-term, cost effective maintenance. From a risk management perspective, this is an exceptional opportunity for government and the BC Ferry Corporation.

It is also critically important to consider the only other alteinative available to BCFC to meet its capital replacement needs. By any standard, a passenger-vehicle ferry with capacity for 800 passengers and 250 to 300 vehicles would cost $65 to $95 million (Can.) or the Corporation could purchase or charter used tonnage world-wide, but face duty charges and high cost of conversion and maintenance of older ships. These are not good options.

Accordingly, it is our strong belief that we should use what we have, namely the three PacifiCats and, with private sector partnership, make the modifications necessary to guarantee successful operations.

The purpose of this paper is to detail that option for the new Government of British Columbia - because that option is the best option...Read the rest of the report by clicking here.

This government had an option to fix the Fast Cats but instead elected to put the BC shipbuilding industry virtually out of business by outsourcing work that could have been done here. Further they shrink wrapped these ships to leave a monument and reminder that the NDP screwed up.

What they don't tell you, is that the ferries could have been altered to conform to what was required.
What they also don't tell you, and the Ferry Corp is dancing around, is that these new ferries appear to have as many problems as the Fast Cats. So I wonder if the Government is going to give these White Elephants away? I really don't think that they know the difference between a Railway or a Ferry Fleet. Do you?

So you see by exempting the Ferry Corp from FOI we the public don't get all the story. In fact this government, I allege, has deliberately manipulated laws and legislation to suit their own ends. And that is to cover up and hide anything detrimental to their looking good in the eyes of the public.

Following BC Marys' post I took the time to look up her article. I found it in www.pej.org and with her permission I have copied and posted it below. This is a most interesting article not only on the Ferries but on events and manipulation by the Gordon Campbells liberals and the West Coast Media, as she calls it.

Fast Ferries Fine Ferries

PEJ News:
I've been reading up on the PacifiCats recently, because the West Coast media got me wondering. When CanWest news declares something is terribly awful and bad ... is it? The story of British Columbia's fast Cat ferries is exciting reading, running the whole range of emotions from triumph to despair, from pride to rage to depression. Shakespeare would have seized such a dramatic theme and called his flagship stage play "PacifiCat Explorer." The king who launched these ships might have been stabbed through the heart but the villain would have caught a terrible disease and rotted a slow and painful death by the time the curtain fell.

Act 1, Scene 1. 1982, San Francisco

A conference paper is presented by Paul Hercus outlining the virtues of high-speed catamaran ferries. He describes them as:

* simple to build
* requiring standard diesel engine technology
* simple propellers
* affordable to own, operate, and travel on.

North America became the testing ground for high speed ferry, commuter, and tourist transport. Such backwaters (I'm thinking like a CanWest editor now) as Boston, New York, Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington State had tried hydrofoils, hovercrafts, the Boeing Jetfoil, the Surface Effect Craft and "Exotically-powered Monohulls" all of which were complex, experimental, unsatisfactory, and expensive, given the results achieved. But (returning to sanity) that's what happens when embarking on a new technology: innovation -> prototypes -> testing -> start over.

Scene 2.

The first Catamaran ferry in Washington State 1984 operates between Long Beach and Catalina during the Olympics, with faster crossings and good response from the public. (Although the first B.C. ferry catamaran was "North Island Princess" refitted in Burrard Dry Dock 1971 and still operating between Powell River and Texada Island.)

This U.S. vessel then went to Alaska for successful tourist service in Prince William Sound. Another catamaran operated in Puget Sound for many years between Seattle and Alderbrook Resort before being sold for operation between Oakland, Alameda and San Francisco. Another catamaran was then purchased for sightseeing around San Francisco Bay.

So Act 1 establishes that the high-speed catamaran was not only accepted world-wide but had become a craze because of its simplified technology. Customers were lining up for shipyards capable of building them. British Columbia was ideally situated.

Act 2:

Fjellstrand, one of the first new overseas designs to sell, inaugurated Clipper Navigation's service between Seattle and Victoria. At this point in the report, "Fifteen years of fast ferries in North America," it shows the basis for B.C.'s decision to enter this proven industry and it was good. Former Social Credit cabinet minister Sam Bawlf participated in these talks to convince Premier Glen Clark to undertake the project to build 3 new high speed catamarans in B.C.

Other catamarans had begun service in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, as troop transport in the Marshall Islands, on the Great Lakes, and one fast ferry which docked at the foot of Wall Street in New York. The king's decision seemed wise as well as good. [Applause, applause.]

There was a set-back, however, before B.C. ferries entered the scene. 1987 brought a Wall Street crash which was felt world-wide.

As interest rates rose, businesses stopped investing in new projects. This didn't affect the fast Ferry industry until 1990 when aluminum prices began to rise, and wash problems were being documented in Rich Passage, between Seattle and Bremerton. Mono-hulls produced even greater wash. But Washington State ferries kept testing and found that their two fast Cats with longer, more slender hulls produced much less wash.

However, that process of testing took several years, so orders were held up for that reason. Setbacks are inevitable in a new technology but the outlines of a coming Shakespearean tragedy are forming ... not in the technology ... but in the sidewalk superintendents who saw that propaganda could be harvested from the delays. Pride could be turned to impatience and impatience into anger.

Act 3. 1994. West Coast ports

A new boom in fast ferries begins and U.S.A. is looking for new vessels. British Columbia's N.D.P. government takes the giant step forward and calls for "Expressions of interest" from marine designers around the world.

B.C.'s expressed aim is written in: "To put together the best possible team to design and construct a car- and passenger-carrying ferry system which would bring the greatest economical benefit not only to B.C. ferries but to B.C. as a whole."

BC. ferries received 22 proposals, 14 of which were for catamarans. They chose the one best suited and granted the design contract to International Catamaran (Incat) of Sydney, Australia and to Canadian naval architects Robert Allan Ltd., in December 1994.

British Columbia was nicely placed for a booming market ... which, by 1998, would see a virtual explosion of fast Cat building.

Act 4, Scene 1. Vancouver, B.C.

PacifiCats, as they were now called, were being watched closely, for two particular reasons (as well as a secretive 3rd reason).

* B.C. wanted to train its own skilled workforce,
* B.C. wanted to build its own aluminum facility.

Although very few citizens could have foreseen, at the time, how this tragedy would unfold, there were also:

* powerful people in British Columbia who wanted the fast Cat project to fail. The propaganda value of an N.D.P. failure could guarantee their hopes for a change of government.

Our first clue (how Shakespeare would have ridiculed such a low ambition!) was the name the nay-sayers chose. These beautiful B.C.-built ships were to become known, the rascals hoped, as the Fast Ferry Fiasco. F.F.F. Any fool could remember that tag.

Act 4, Scene 2.

"All expectations were met" when the first PacifiCat Explorer was launched in 1998. By the time PacifiCat Discovery was launched in 1999, and PacifiCat Voyager in 2000, the cost for all 3 ships had gone from the expected $250 million to $450 million and that was their cue, "WASTED MILLIONS"! The media went mad.

"Extreme public scrutiny" dogged every move. But others pointed out (to no avail) that the simple cost of having trained those workers in regular classrooms would have equaled this price. The B.C. media didn't want to know. The eastern media didn't care.

"... the revitalized [B.C.] shipbuilding industry should feel particularly proud of their achievements," concluded the 15-page report by Ben Hercus. "The future of fast ferries in North America could, at last, be considered safe and secure" as, by 1998, 27% of the world's 59 fast Cats had been built in North America. And B.C. shipyards were now ready to build more.

Was the Fast Ferries project a success? Yes. Was it an abject failure? Well, yes, too, as it fed into the unscrupulous need to find fault for political benefit.

So in 1999, Premier Glen Clark called in the largest independent naval architecture consulting firm in North America to do a technical assessment of the design and construction quality of the 3 PacifiCats. That ought to have silenced the nay-sayers, when John J. McMullen Associates Inc. reported that "the vessels are fine ships ... of good quality throughout." But by then, nobody could hear a thing. And besides, it appeared as a small item buried deep inside the newspapers.

To this day, there are many people who remain convinced by the barrage of negative publicity. And who can blame them, for that's what they saw in their daily newspapers.

Soon, a Clark family back porch would overtake the front pages and as more invective was heaped upon NDP Premier Clark, he resigned. Of course, it was eventually proven that there was nothing wrong with Glen Clark's back porch, but this took months to prove that the Guilty was Not Guilty.

Meantime, Gordon Campbell had been busy. His Socred/Liberals romped to an easy triumph in the 2001 election. No report surfaced of the $1.4 Billion surplus -- the biggest in B.C. history -- which was left by the defeated New Democrats. The new Liberal government's reign began with the biggest lie of all: that they had inherited such a financial mess that only they could save B.C.

If this really had been a Shakespeare play, the stage now would darken as the exhausted king collapses on the floor with a dagger in his back; in the background, there would be a shipyard in flames. The villain, in a smooth business suit, would swagger to centre stage to take the throne as the curtain slowly lowered. But the way he slump over, clutching his heart, is telling us that he is already infected by a terrible disease of his own making.

The end.

Many British Columbians simply couldn't believe that anyone would deliberately set out on a campaign of falsehoods to wipe out a government which they had voted into power. Nobody could imagine British Columbian leaders actually destroying a proud B.C. industry.

The truth only began to dawn when the PacifiCats were put up for sale. The barrage of insults intensified.

Who would buy a used car with the town screaming that it was a "fiasco"? Who could risk using the fast cats as public ferries if they had been denounced as terrible ships?

Even as scrap metal, the 3 ships were worth $60 million. But in the end, with no other buyers daring to show up, the 3 beautiful PacifiCats sold to the Washington Marine Group for $17 million. For an extra $3 million, WMG got all the spare parts and the shipyard too.

All three PacifiCats are still docked there in North Vancouver, where they are lovingly maintained. One unsubstantiated rumour says that they will return to service between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, in direct competition with B.C. Ferries.

British Columbia had one more hard lesson to learn when the Oligarchy simply stopped being subtle.

When new ships were needed for the B.C. ferries fleet, no contracts went to our own "revitalized shipbuilding industry" -- which had built the beautiful big B.C. super-ferries "Spirit" ships, the sparky little Queen of Cumberland -- in fact, 33 of the 35 ships of the B.C. Ferries fleet -- as well as the PacifiCats. Nor were B.C. shipyards invited to tender a bid. This was the final measure of what had been done to the shipbuilding industry in B.C.

The Gordon Campbell government gave the contracts to a German shipyard which ... incidentally ... wasn't capable of building our new ships. Only by making their employees take a cut in wages they were able to re-fit their shipyard.

Shakespeare would have discarded such a hopeless ending as illogical. British Columbia had committed no crime, no outrage, no genocide, to have made us deserving of such mythic punishment. All we did was to vote in two New Democratic governments. Legally. Democratically. But that was it, wasn't it? The people wanted more say, in a kinder gentler government.

A commentor on The Tyee wrote: "the FastCats were not so much a victim of objective technological or product development issues, as they were the politics of the day, and the particular atmosphere of hysteria generated by Fiberal and partisan Big Media interests. The hysteria was carried to such a level that it even over-rode the making of a prudent business decision, and the good sense and self-interest even of the public. It was a demonstration of the power of media to shape public opinion, more than it was a poor business decision by the NDP."

If only Gordon Campbell's group trusted the people and had co-operated, there would have been a very happy ending in B.C. And I wouldn't be thinking that the West Coast media's performance was almost criminal.

So I certainly don't think the fast ferries project was terribly awful ... or at all bad. In fact, I think it just barely, tragically, missed being spectacular.

copied here from http://www.pej.org and posted with permission from BC Mary


North Van's Grumps said...

It sounds like that as much as the public hated the spending of our hard earned tax dollars to build the Fast Cat Ferry fleet, they've turned a blind eye to the loss they took when the BC Liberal government took over from the NDP.

Gordon Campbell did everything to discredit the NDP, and now its turning out that although he created a private corparation, not answerable to the public, the BC Ferry System is turning out be an albatross far greater in size that the one that took down Glen Clark.

Under the direction of the BC Liberal government, the BC ferries have tried the Surcharge route only to find out that there is not a lot of support, or sympathy, from its travelling patrons.

"May" we say its unfortunate that the new "Tri-as-they-might" ferries built in Germany are no better than the fast cats?

To hear that the new ferries won't be operational for the whole year, makes me think that Hahn, and his provincially appoointed Board of Directors, have heard the outcrys from the people and want to take a little bit of the flack off of their shoulders.... but at the expense of proving that those ferries built in Canada (BC) were good enough without going overseas, are good enough to replace the new fleet? Hmmmmmmm. Not good fodder for the press or the public, eh.

Gary E said...


Sorry for the delay in entering your comment.

I'm not soo sure on this but I think it was G West who did some digging on the Supposed debt that the NDP left. And that digging shows that the debt was a spin. Which is par for the course with this government.
The spin and propaganda in this province brings to mind the same thing coming out of Germany in the thirties.

BC Mary said...

Hi Gary,

Nice to see some kind words for the old BC Ferries.

Couple or 3 years ago, I did a story on why the NDP government had chosen to build the PacifiCats.

I had grown so weary of Gordo's bad-mouth talk, I wanted to know for myself. Turns out that there was plenty of FastCat technology in development world-wide, lots of FastCats in service, and lots of potential for a skilled BC workforce. In other words, it made sense.

If you want to find it, it's titled Fast Ferries Fine Ferries

It appeared once in Vive le Canada.