The fast fat lady is singing

Those of you that have followed the last few blog entries here might be incline to say – Seaspan, yet again! No no, I am not obsessed with them, its just that I wait till I have a few small news bits before making a blog entry worthwhile, but then I start digging information and realize that there is more there than I thought – and thus the numerous blog entries appear.

This blog entry revolves around the Washington Marine Group’s three large fast ferries that they acquired for a smoking good price, a few years ago from BC Ferries, in a fire sale auction held in Vancouver.

A month ago, on July 28th, the Washington Marine Group, to which Seaspan is a major component, announced it had sold all three “PacifiCats” it had mothballed at their North Vancouver facilities. The price was not disclose, and they are expected to leave the area sometime in the coming weeks. A heavy lift ship is reportedly been called to haul them, presumably, to the Persian Gulf where its new owners, Abu Dhabi MAR is expected to convert them to gigayachts.

The Washington Marine Group purchased the vessels a few years back from BC Ferries at a bargain basement, ridiculously low, auction price of almost 19.8 millions dollars, a pittance of their original cost to taxpayers. The picture below shows the Voyager and Explorer next to Mr. Washington two yachts, at the Washington Marine Group’s Vancouver Drydock pier in North Vancouver, in late 2007.

The three massive aluminum ships, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Discovery, Pacific Voyager were built predominately at the group’s own yard in North Vancouver. The cost of the project skyrocketed past its budget by 100% to nearly half a billion dollars. Adding insult to injury, one ship, the Pacific Voyager never even sailed commercially, it never made it into the BCFC fleet register.

This albatross hung low on the neck of the ruling provincial NDP government at the time, and primarily responsible for the project, and the management of BC Ferries. The election that followed had a disastrous outcome for both of those parties, and I believe rightly so. The ferry corporation went from a crown corporation to a semi private company. The damage from years of politically driven (mis) management was significant, but I think the company is slowly starting to look like one now.

The local media characterized the recent sale of the fast cats in a heavy BC Ferries tone, even though the ferries had long been withdrawn from the company’s asset list. As matter of fact, one report I saw made no mention of the actual seller, Seaspan / Washington Marine Group, in their “extensive” report.

Mr. Washington, being no dummy, saw the potential in the vessels, and although the cost of maintaining the ships must have been significant over the years, it is all probably well worth it for him to have bough them for such a low price. Plus I am sure the extra cash probably comes at a good time. The scrap price of the specialized aluminum utilized in their building was probably worth more, not to mention the 14 or so MTU engines, with hardly any hours on them.

I also find it interesting that Dave Ritchie, one of the founders of the BC based industrial equipment auction powerhouse, Ritchie Bros, responsible for the PacifiCat’s disposal, owned a rather large chunk of Stuart Island. Privately owned Stuart Island features a beautiful golf course, paved roads, and a private airstrip not to mentioned some pretty impressive houses. Quite unusual for the area, especially since there are hardly any inhabitants on the island. Mind you, Mr. Ritchie shares the fishing hot spot island with another prominent neighbor, Mr. Washington. Interesting optics.

I still feel a bit sad about that whole story, not only as a taxpayer, but because I visited the yard several times during their build and saw a quality product, that was predominately “sunk” by inept political motivations and an especially vicious and persistent attacks by the local media, which tainted the whole of the vessel program, unjustifiably in my view.

The three ships have been bought by Abu Dhabi MAR, a relatively new entity that is aiming to make a big splash on the gigayacht scene (giga, yeah I know, lets not even go there). All the reports I have seen decline to give further details on the fate of the vessels, although Abu Dhabi MAR is currently putting the final touches on two Dutch Navy frigates, which they are converting into gigayachts. Newspaper article at the time of the sale, cited sources that mentioned the three sisters would be heavy lifted to the Persian Gulf, in a month or so, making that any day now.

One has to wonder if the BC Ferries’ management foray into the Persian Gulf, and the interest into the vessels last year, has had anything to do with this sale. Undoubtedly this development gets us closer to the end of the saga, a sad story and a source of resentment for many in the province.

You can find further details on the vessels and their history here and here. Kevin Stappleton has lots of pics of the cats, and further information here.

Update – Aug 25, 2009. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I pressed the “publish” button, I read that Dockwise’s heavy lift ship Swift, was already loaded with the Pacific Voyager in Vancouver. Here is the story from the local paper, here’s another.. On the side, is a picture from Kevin Stapleton’s website, and he’s right on it photographing it, check all out all his pictures here of the operation.

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