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Ferry conversion price jumps

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The Steamship Authority Port Board learned on Tuesday morning that the price of converting recently acquired offshore supply vessels into ferries had risen due to the rising cost of steel.

SSA chief executive Robert Davis said the price assumptions on the conversions were made months ago.

“We have reviewed these assumptions and with supply chain and other issues, we believe that these initial prices [points] are going to be a bit light on price,” Davis said. “So we want to have a better understanding here of what it’s going to cost.”

Last year, the SSA bought two offshore supply vessels from Louisiana to convert them into freight ferries that will replace the Katama and the Gay Head, which are at the end of their useful life in the SSA fleet. The two boats cost $11.3 million to purchase. All costs associated with two ships, including conversion in a shipyard, were expected to be approximately $32 million. The ships were given the names Aquinnah and Monomoy by the council last year, although they have yet to be turned into ferries. This was due to a Coast Guard regulation requiring the submission of a name within a short period of time after an acquisition. Davis said the scope of ship conversion work has changed, so not only have steel prices increased, but more steel work appears to be needed to affect conversions. SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen said costs had increased “compared to even four or five months ago” and steel had increased “significantly”.

Davis did not offer what the increase in the estimate might be for the two ships. The shipyards had requested extensions for bid proposals on conversions, he said. Previously scheduled for a January 10 deadline, proposals are due January 18.

In November, the board authorized the $5.6 million purchase of a third offshore supply vessel of the same class as Aquinnah and Monomoy. Currently called North Star, the SSA had her inspected at the Bollinger Shipyard in Louisiana prior to purchase. It was found in good condition. A tender dossier for this vessel is still being prepared, according to Amundsen, and has therefore not been sent. The SSA also spent $200,000 for a naval architect to help with conversion plans and other items. Amundsen said the figure covers all vessels ripe for conversion.

Davis said he expects Treasurer Mark Rozum to ask the board for bonding approval for the ships. Davis said the request is related to a petition to the state legislature for an increase in the ferry line’s bond cap. Davis said the SSA currently has a bond limit of $100 million. Taking inflation into account, he said that should be adjusted to $125 million.

SSA has an option on a fourth ship in the same class as Aquinnah, Monomoy and North Star. In the event of an acquisition, Davis said it was not yet clear where the funding for the fourth vessel would come from. At the last board meeting, the ferry line received a windfall of $35.8 million from the US Transit Authority via the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. However, this mass of money does not seem sufficient to cover all the costs associated with three ships.

As for what to name the third ship, Davis said time is running out. After deliberation, the board voted unanimously to propose three names to the SSA board for consideration at its January meeting: Barnstable, Fairhaven and Wampanoag.

Prior to the vote, Davis reminded the board that a naming contest had taken place and this had resulted in the names Aquinnah and Monomoy being chosen for the first two ships acquired.

Davis said staff had whittled down the large number of remaining names to a group of 11: Amity, Barnstable, Cape Cod, Cottage City, Craigville, Fairhaven, Hyannisport, New Bedford, Sandy Neck, Teaticket and Tuckernuck. Generally speaking, Davis said the staff’s list was “more continent-centric.” To avoid passenger confusion, Davis said proposed ship names that exactly mimic current SSA ports were not shortlisted, such as “Hyannis.”

Roland “Bud” Breault, a member of the Barnstable Port Council, argued for the choice of the name “Barnstable”. Fairhaven Port Council Member Mark Rees pitched “Fairhaven”, noting that “Fairhaven sounds better than New Bedford”. Oak Bluffs Port Council member Joe Sollitto gravitated to “Cottage City.” Nantucket Port Council member Nathaniel Lowell called “Hyannisport” “too mellow” and described “Tuckernuck” as “a great sounding name.” Lowell said he supports the selection of a continental port for the North Star’s renaming.

“This is an opportunity to have our relationship with the mainland represented,” said Falmouth Port Council member Robert Munier.

Although not on the personnel roster, Wampanoag’s name has been discussed.

Munier said that while not a place name per se, Wampanoag represents a “well-known name that would mean a lot to a lot of people…”

Sollitto asked Davis if the SSA should consult with the Aquinnah Tribal Council before considering the name.

Davis agreed with this and added that he felt the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe should also be consulted. He noted that there was precedent for Native American ferry names, as the Iyanough is named after a famous sachem.

In other cases, John Cahill, a member of the Tisbury Port Council, referred to the special service that Patriot Party Boats organized on Christmas Eve. Cahill said he thought it would be helpful to talk about why the SSA canceled the ferries that day. As The Times previously reported, Patriot Party Boats owner Jim Tietjie took people stranded in Falmouth to Oak Bluffs and mostly took UPS and US Postal employees stranded in Oak Bluffs to Falmouth after SSA service ended the Christmas Eve. Tietjie used his vessel Quickwater, often simply referred to as “The Patriot”.

Davis said bad weather that had been forecast caused the ships’ voyages to be canceled. The SSA had been in contact with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service before the weather system, Davis said. He also said he was “somewhat surprised” when crews and captains nevertheless opted for some trips in “constant 25mph winds with gusts of up to 35 and 40”. The boom collapsed when it got dark and the forecast called for stronger winds. Among other things, “docking at Vineyard Haven was going to be a problem,” Davis said.

Davis noted that the Patriot is not comparable to SSA ferries.

“Safety is paramount,” Davis said. “The Patriot is a different ship and its characteristics are different. The route they were taking was different.

Sollitto asked if freight ferries, with their lower profiles (less drift) might be more useful in stormy weather. Davis pointed to the Katama on Christmas Eve to explain why, at least, the option wasn’t viable.

“The Katama was actually one of the first ships to be canceled because they needed to get the weight on it – there were no trucks to get the weight on – to keep the ship in the water. “

However, he said Aquinnah and Monomoy will possess “different handling characteristics, especially with the twin bow thrusters and stern thrusters”. He suggested that once operational, the SSA could see if these features make a difference in adverse weather conditions.

Sollitto asked if the SSA could make a deal with Patriot Party Boats. Davis played down the idea because he said the shipping company was not licensed by the SSA. The passenger capacity of the Patriot Party Boat vessels appears to exempt it from the restrictions of the SSA enabling statute, unlike Hy-Line, for example.


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