By Bruce Striegler

Aluminum-hull catamarans carry up to 400

Launched in 1977, Vancouver’s SeaBus ferries, the cross-harbour, aluminum-hulled, catamaran passenger ferries have become an iconic transportation link between North Vancouver and downtown Vancouver. It’s a curiosity that a service which carries nearly six million passengers yearly was born from a scrapped 1960’s plan to build freeways along Vancouver’s finest city beaches. Some funds from the rejected freeway proposal were turned into cash for commuter ferries. The original two vessels, built at shipyards in Vancouver and Victoria are now operated by TransLink, the region’s transportation Authority.

In December 2012, TransLink announced that, following a rigorous bid process, it had selected Damen Shipyards of Gorinchem, Netherlands to build a new vessel to replace the 1976-constructed MV Burrard Beaver. Although the vessel remains safe for service, it has reached the end of its useful life and no longer complies with all of Transport Canada’s certification standards. Building the $25 million new SeaBus has been part of TransLink’s plan since 2009.

This is the second replacement SeaBus. The first, MV Burrard Pacific Breeze, came into service in 2010. The newest replacement will be similar, but will include some design updates to improve efficiency, operations, and help protect the environment. The new SeaBus will reduce TransLink’s environmental footprint as it will use less fuel and produce 20 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) than older vessels. The latest vessel will surpass marine standards to help improve air quality, producing 90 per cent less carbon monoxide (CO), 70 per cent fewer hydrocarbons and visible smoke, and 25 per cent less particulate matter.

Damen was established in 1927 and now has 6,000 employees and operations in 35 countries. The company introduced a modular shipbuilding concept in 1969 for smaller boats and launches known as “The Damen Standard”, which has advantages of shorter delivery times and reduced costs.

Offshore contract angers local union

The move to select a foreign supplier sparked controversy with local shipbuilding unions. “Local shipyards and local workers have the expertise to deliver this project,” George MacPherson, President of the B.C. Shipyard Workers Federation, said in a news release. Others pointed out that the original two, and the first replacement constructed in 2009, were built in British Columbia. They added that since the B.C. Government is attempting to ramp up local shipbuilding following the federal contract award to SeaSpan under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, it made no sense to go offshore.

When asked by Canadian Sailings to respond, TransLink provided a statement. “TransLink’s procurement process policy objective is to attain the best value by inviting proposals/bids from all companies that are qualified and capable. TransLink followed the strict guidelines of the competitive bid process that scores proposals according to a number of criteria. Local and international shipbuilders were invited to submit proposals including the same company that built our last three SeaBuses. Unfortunately, this company did not submit a bid. Three proposals were received in total, one from a U.S. based builder, one from a Canadian company that planned to contract around 30 per cent of the work to a U.S. company, and the other was Damen.

Damen scored the highest after three rounds of evaluations. Damen is an international shipyard group established in 1927, and has delivered 150 new vessels annually and has significant experience in building the type of aluminum vessel needed for the SeaBus service.”

Design and propulsion system gives high degree of control

The SeaBus vessels are double-ended catamarans, each powered by four diesel engines. They are extremely stable and can move in any direction including sideways because of the four swivel props at the end of each pontoon. The controls are duplicated on both sides of the captain’s 360-degree swivel chair. Joysticks manage dual steering synchronizers to control rotation of the four prop modules. Each boat is operated by a crew of four, cruises at a speed of 11.5 knots and makes the harbour crossing of 1.75 nautical miles in 12 minutes.

There are two floating enclosed terminals, one in North Vancouver, the other at the downtown Vancouver transit hub in the historic CPR rail terminal, “The Station.” Specially designed flow-through loading systems keep boarding and disembarking passengers completely separate and commuters are able to connect from the terminus to buses and the area’s elevated light rail system all through the same terminal. At peak hours, SeaBus runs every ten minutes, takes 90 seconds to unload, 90 seconds to load. Cumulatively, the vessels make 46,671 crossings annually travelling 76,424 miles. The new vessel will be in service by the fall of 2014.