By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES – Marine Atlantic’s newest vessel, which was ordered last July, is currently under construction. Darrell Mercer, Corporate Communications Manager, said steel cutting began on Thursday, May 16.
“Stena is building the ship and they are going to charter it to us in the 2024-25 fiscal year. Their process of steel cutting has commenced for the beginning of that process, so we expect it’s going to see the construction activity over the next few years, and we expect it to be introduced to our service sometime on the 2024- 25 fiscal year.”
Mercer said the federal government provided funding to Marine Atlantic to look for a vessel, and as part of that, they were able to reach a charter agreement with Stena.
“We’ve been working with the government of Canada for quite some time regarding fleet configuration. Obviously, when you are looking at long-term fleet strategy, you need to have effective infrastructure. We have the Blue Puttees and the Highlanders. The Leif Ericson is an aging vessel. The Atlantic Vision is a leased vessel. So obviously we need to plan long term to ensure that our fleet meets the demands of our customers.”
Mercer said the charter agreement with Stena covers a period of five years once the vessel comes into service.
“After that five-year charter period we’re going to have the option to purchase the vessel. That five-year period gives us a lot of information as to whether the vessel was suitable for our service during that period.”
Mercer said this vessel, like all other vessels in their fleet, will be an ice-class vessel.
“It’s going to be a hybrid. It’s going to be able to carry commercial and passenger vehicles similar to our vessels right now. It’s going to offer energy efficient green ship technology. It’s going to incorporate dual fuel technology and be equipped with batteries, and that’s going to further reduce the carbon footprint of the vessel. It’s going to be constructed with specific measures to reduce underwater noise which is going to reduce the impact on marine life. It’s going to be built with enhanced power and thruster capabilities which will allow maximum maneuvering during the docking and undocking process.”
There are advantages to the newer vessel that set it apart from the current fleet.
“We’re going to have 146 passenger cabins, and that’s going to include pet-friendly cabins as well, but we’re introducing something called passenger pods. That’s a little different than a regular cabin that a customer would go into. It’s smaller and it’s more compact. If somebody is just looking for a cabin that doesn’t have all the frills of a regular cabin, then a passenger pod would be what they are looking for. It’s a place you can go that has a bed and they will be able to get a night’s sleep. It’s something our customers indicated they wanted, a cabin arrangement such as that. There’s going to be a variety of food service options, seating lounges, a children’s play area, a kennel for pets. So there’s a whole bunch of new and updated amenities for customers.”
The ship is going to be 200 metres in length, a large vessel that will offer significant capacity and will still be compatible on the Port Aux Basques and Argentia service.
Mercer said both the name of the new vessel and which current vessel the new ship will replace are things that will be discussed and finalized over the next couple of years.
“Those are decisions that are going to be made in consultation with the government of Canada. Obviously, with the vessel arriving in 2024/2025, we’ll have a clearer picture over the next couple of years.”
Marine Atlantic is now in the planning stages in preparation for the completion of the vessel.
“The vessel isn’t built yet but we are doing a lot of the due diligence now leading up to that process. Over the past couple of years, a lot of our efforts were going through the request for proposals process; selecting a company that would build the vessel and charter it for us. That’s the process we did for the last couple of years and now we’re at the point where we are planning for introductory pieces coming in.”
Mercer said skillsets, positions and similar requirements are being planned with the human resources department.
“Obviously when you bring in a new vessel, there is a training requirement because some of the technology is maybe different. Some of the various components of the vessel may need some training for people who have worked on other vessels. There is a significant familiarization process that goes along with this and that will be something that is overtaken over the next two to three years.”
Mercer said the procurement of this vessel is a strengthening in Marine Atlantic’s service for their customers, and helps them achieve their mandate, to be modern, efficient, and effective.”
“We’re excited to have the vessel come into our service. Obviously it is still a couple of years away, but the planning processes are well in hand right now. We’re working through the design features and we feel it is going to be a great addition to our fleet.”