The federal Crown corporation that runs the ferry service between North Sydney and Newfoundland has entered into a five-year lease agreement to test out a new energy-efficient passenger ship.
Marine Atlantic has chosen a Swedish company to construct the 200-metre ice-classed vessel, similar in size to the existing ferries Blue Puttees and Highlanders.
"If the ship does not work out and we're not happy with her, and she doesn't fit the service, we have the option after five years to give her back," said Murray Hupman, president and CEO of Marine Atlantic.
Hupman said the lease with Stena North Sea Ltd. will help mitigate the risk of purchasing the ferry outright. The vessel is not customized, but one of about five ferries that exist around the world.
If a decision to purchase is made, the ferry would replace either the MV Leif Ericson or the MV Atlantic Vision, although a final decision has not been made.
"After a number of years, new vessels come in and old vessels go out," said Hupman. "This is just a part of our fleet strategy."
Option to use batteries as well as conventional fuels
The yet-to-be constructed and yet-to-be named ferry will feature a dual-fuel technology, meaning its engine can be powered by marine diesel oil, liquified natural gas and batteries.
"It will give us some flexibility … and that's a part of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions," said Hupman.
"We're going to have a full battery bank on board, so instead of using engines and diesel fuel we will be able to rely on battery technology to a much larger extent."
Hupman said it's not clear what the ferry's fuel costs will be, therefore he could not say whether it will result in lowered fuel surcharges.
He said the vessel is also designed to reduce underwater noise, thereby reducing its impact on marine life.
Pet-friendly cabins, 'passenger pods'
It will provide space for 1,000 passengers and features 146 passenger cabins, including pet-friendly cabins, in addition to a restaurant, lounge, children's play area and gift shop.
There will be 40 passenger pods — basically bedrooms without bathrooms.
"The price point will be lower than a cabin, for those people who are just looking to get a private place to lay down and get a night's sleep," Hupman said of the two-person structures.
Hupman said it's his understanding the vessel will be built in China. The cost of the five-year lease is about $100 million, with no final price tag attached to the vessel.
Marine Atlantic has spent the last two years trying to determine the most suitable and available company to build its next ferry. The money for the project was announced in the 2019 federal budget
Hupman said that when leased, the ship will be available for runs between Port-aux-Basques and Argentia, N.L. It is expected to enter service in the spring of 2024.
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