New ships are fine, need new attitude

No less than 41 engineering position are advertised on BC Ferries corporate website. In comparison, there is ten deck and four catering position similarly advertised. Obviously there is a major problem with the way the organization is approaching this dilemma. Regardless of what corporate says or the union does, their seems to be a glaring message sent from the engineering department of the corp.

This major hurdle may be whats behind a string of constant news about various ferries breaking down, and numerous operational delays. The latest being the new Coastal Inspiration, with steering gear issues. The venerable “Cow” (Queen of Cowichan), probably my favorite boat of the fleet, (don’t ask me why, as I have no idea, I’m just weird that way) came to the rescue and replaced the Inspiration on its Nanaimo (Duke pt) to Tsawassen run.

Judging from various comments and grumblings in local engineering circles, the three new “Coastal” ships are not without issues. The various “teething pains” is keeping local Nanaimo Shipyard, on contract from German FSG Shipyards in Flensburg, quite busy doing waranty work on the three new vessels. One issue that has come up, is the engine room ventilation, critical to the proper cooling of the electric propulsion system, is suffering some breakdowns. Seems the fans utilized were designed for axial mounting not vertical, therefore bearings are wearing out prematurely. Sources tell me that the waranty work includes the replacement of the bearings, yes, the original design… mmmm.

The mechanical problems, I suspect, will continue. With BC Ferries aggresively advertising for engineers for quite some time now, but obviously the shortage and breakdowns persist. Suggesting that a fundamental change in attitude toward engineers, their conditions and training is needed at HQ.

One other issue that I foresee being a major upcoming hurdle for the new ships, and its manning department, is the fact that very few electricians apropriately trained exist in Canada for diesel electric propulsion systems. This was a topic I raised here several years ago, and numerous control issues have allready reared their head. I predict the electrical / electronic issues will only get critical in time, as systems come up for maintenance and parts replacements. With the obvious inability to attract engineers, there is an even more remote chance of finding appropriately experienced marine electrician and control technician. A trade that does not even have Transport Canada standards.

Its not all bad news for BC Ferries, the German shipyard continues to build another ship for BC Ferries, the Northern Expedition. It is set to leave the German shipyard at the end of the month bound for British Columbia. The Island Sky, a new intermediate ferry designed and built by Washington Marine Group’s Vancouver Shipyards, was delivered and entered service on the Sunshine Coast this past December.

Perhaps the reason the corporation is ignoring the “men down below” is the fact that the local media is always watching their every step, so they are probably more concern about paint schemes and public opinion than steering gears and circuit breakers. An interesting article came accross my desktop last month (but I have had no time to elaborate here due to license upgrading) was from the left leaning The Tyee paper. This article is typical of the media fluff thrown about, which brings to mind, the squeeky wheels gets the grease attitude, a hallmark of the disastrous time in power of the political party NDP.

I suspect that BC Ferries management’s biggest hurddle was this type of intrenched attitude, in and outside the ranks. The teething pains of the new ship are really not that significant compared to the transition from a Crown corporation, and its numerous and fat layers of bureaucracy, to a the semi private company it is now – or wants to become.

This article has 1 Comment

  1. You are dead-on with your comments on the electrician issues. My outfit has been somewhat “dealing” with the issue for years.
    My opinion is if you need electrician, go to the industrial schools, hire the bright young things, pay for their MED, pay for any other course they need to sail and put them under a contract for x number of years. It is really not difficult, just lay out some dollars on training.
    Unfortunately training is usually the first thing cut in budgets and since I hear BCFC has laid off a large number of people, I guess the training budget is gone too, if they ever had one.
    Somethime though you just have to suck it up and make the decision to deal with an issue.

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