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BC Ferries announced last week that the company has once again hired Damen Shipyards Group (Damen) to build four hybrid electric Island Class vessels.

Damen Shipyards built the last six Island Class vessels for BC Ferries. Two of those ships are currently serving as the Gwawis and Kwigwis on the Gabriola route.

The four new Island Class ships will have the same capacity as the current six.

Critics of the Island Class ferries say the ships are too small for the Gabriola route, in particular during the spring and summer months when there is no second ship service after the 5:40pm sailing.

At the final Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting, Gabriola members of the FAC pointed to lineups extending well outside the ferry terminal, and residents having to wait up to three hours to board the ferry to Gabriola.

Heather O’Sullivan, co-Chair of the Gabriola FAC, said this past week, “The FAC welcome’s BC Ferries’ efforts to decrease carbon emissions by proceeding with full electrification of the Island Class ferry service between Nanaimo and Gabriola.

“However, as stated in our letter to the BC Ferry Commission of Nov. 6, we are concerned about the implications of locking this route into vessels that may be too small to carry future capacity.

“Flexible scheduling and increasing service hours of the second vessel are now the only ways to address persistent overloads and multiple sailing waits which will only worsen as Gabriola’s population grows, and it is our hope that BCF will acknowledge this reality and work with the FAC toward finding creative solutions.”

Nicolas Jimenez, BC Ferries’ President and CEO said in a press release that, “adding more Island Class vessels will also make it easier to deploy crew, create efficiencies in training costs, and promote safe, reliable and environmentally conscious ferry services up and down the coast.”

Jimenez said the new hybrid electric vessels will further standardize the fleet, increasing capacity and improving the flexibility of BC Ferries to move ships across routes, “so passengers can have confidence that we’ll get them where they need to go.”

Damen is based out of the Netherlands and will build the vessels in Romania. The Damen bid was selected from among several proposals received from around the world. No Canadian companies submitted a bid.

Leo Postma, Damen’s Area Director Americas said, “we are super excited and extremely pleased with the award of four more Island Class type vessels for BC Ferries. We have teamed up with the technical staff of BC Ferries now for seven years and together we developed a very efficient series of 10 ferries in total that meet all of the future requirements of safe, reliable and sustainable waterborne public transport.”

According to BC Ferries, the new ships will have a number of features that support BC Ferries’ Clean Futures Plan goals of being efficient and environmentally responsible throughout its fleet and operations.

The company plans to operate these new vessels exclusively in battery-electric mode, using renewable BC Hydro electricity.

The four new vessels will enter service by 2027 on the routes connecting Nanaimo Harbour and Gabriola Island (two vessels) and Campbell River and Quadra Island (two vessels).

Through a separate contract, BC Ferries plans to have corresponding electrical upgrades installed for shore-based rapid charging at the four terminals on these routes, in time for ship delivery.

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