January 9, 2003

Cats go on block as B.C. Ferries gets a shake up
A venture into fast ferry construction that cost British Columbia taxpayers Canadian $454 million (U.S. $290.6 million) is approaching its final chapter. Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, which describes itself as "the world's leading industrial auctioneer" will, on March 24, 2003 put on the block three PacifiCat-class catamaran ferries built by the ill-fated, B.C. Government owned, Catamaran Ferries International.

Meantime, the ferries' owner, B.C. Ferries, is to be transformed from a government owned corporation and will become "an independent, regulated, self-financing company called BC Ferry Services. An independent, no-share capital authority will own the issued common voting shares and will oversee the delivery of ferry services. The services will be specified in a multi-year contract with the British Columbia provincial government called the coastal ferry services contract.

Much like the Vancouver Airport Authority, says a backgrounder from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, the British Columbia Ferry Authority and its operating company, BC Ferry Services, will be shielded from political interference through the establishment of an independent board of directors appointed by the authority. This independence will enable management to run the business based on sound commercial principles. The new authority will be created by legislation and will be responsible for the governance and oversight of its operating company, BC Ferry Services.

The Ministry says that, "as a Crown corporation, B.C. Ferries has been subjected to years of political interference in everything from rate-setting to vessel construction and spending priorities. This problem, which has been well chronicled in independent reports ...has seriously inhibited the corporation's ability to operate in a businesslike manner. A lack of strategic planning and poor decision-making has resulted in deteriorating service and outdated vessels. More than C$1 billion (about U.S. $ 640.25 million) of taxpayers' money has been wasted in the last decade alone, including C$454 million for the fast ferries."

"Over the next 15 years," says the Ministry, "$2 billion will be required to replace aging ships and upgrade terminals. But the ferry corporation's current structure inhibits access to the outside capital needed to make these necessary investments. In addition, ferry users have grown increasingly frustrated by service disruptions, inefficiencies, late sailings and a lack of service and amenity choices."

As an independent entity, the new BC Ferry Services "will borrow externally to fund its C$2 billion capital requirement without taxpayer risk."

Skeptics will watch with interest to see if the new entity actually orders its new ferries from the those yards best placed to deliver them at a competitive price.

Be that as it may, B.C. taxpayers' loss may be some ferry operator's gain. Ritchie Bros.will be selling what it describes as "three technically advanced fast ferries capable of carrying 1,000 passengers and 250 vehicles at speeds of up to 34 knots" at an international, unreserved public auction at 11:00 a.m. PST on March 24, 2003 at Canada Place, Vancouver.

The 122-meter aluminum vessels, PacifiCat Explorer, PacifiCat Discovery and PacifiCat Voyager, are among the largest catamaran fast ferries in the world. Ritchie Bros. describes the vessels as "engineered to the highest technical and performance standards," and notes that they were "designed by world-renowned Phil Hercus of Incat Designs, Sydney, Australia, and built in British Columbia, Canada, in March 1999, September 1999 and July 2000 respectively."

Current owner BC Ferries, according to Ritchie Bros., "has determined that the vessels, which have seen very little service, are not suited to the high level of commercial trucks and buses on its ferry routes."

President and Chief Operating Officer of Ritchie Bros., Randy Wall, said that an international unreserved public auction and Ritchie Bros.' proven ability to deliver a global marketplace will attract motivated buyers from around the world and ensure that the vessels sell on March 24 for the best possible price. To assist in the global effort, Ritchie Bros. has retained marine consultant Stephen Phillips, managing director of Seaspeed Technology Limited in West Sussex, U.K., who is also a specialist in fast ferries.

"With no minimum bids, reserve prices or buy backs, our customers bid with confidence, knowing that every bid is legitimate," said Wall. "It is absolutely certain that all three of these state-of-the-art PacifiCats will have a new owner upon completion of the auction."

Ritchie Bros., which last year held over 140 auctions in ten countries with gross auction sales of more than US$1.37 billion, sells industrial assets exclusively by unreserved auction. On average its auctions attract about 1,100 bidders.

The owner of the three vessels is BC Ferries of Victoria, B.C., Canada. BC Ferries Interim President and CEO Doug Allen said Ritchie Bros., combined with the international marine expertise of Stephen Phillips of Seaspeed Technology, is an excellent choice to sell the vessels. "Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers is a company that can give us the global exposure we need and has a proven track record in attracting the right buyers and delivering results."

The PacifiCat fast ferries, according to Ritchie Bros., have "many unique features that provide fast, efficient vessel turnaround and enhance vessel monitoring and control. Bow and stern doors allow quick drive-through loading and unloading; upper and lower vehicle decks can be loaded simultaneously; the vessels can be remotely monitored in real time for position, speed, trim, jet angles and RPM; a 287 kW bow thruster improves maneuverability at low speeds; and an integrated bridge system allows enhanced safety monitoring, control and crew deployment. Each vessel is fitted with a 75 square meter galley located on the main passenger deck with a complete range of appliances, a snack bar, a gift shop, and an arcade room. Most passenger seating is lounge-style."

Also available by unreserved auction are large amounts of spares and components for all the PacifiCats' systems including MTU engines, components and tooling; dishes; clothing; generator parts; marine electronics; hydraulics parts and sewage treatment parts.

The three PacifiCats will be sold by live auction at 11:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal, Vancouver, B.C. Bidders will also be able to participate in the auction over the Internet using the rbauctionBid-Live service from their own office or from one of Ritchie Bros.' auction facilities in Toronto, Canada; Orlando, U.S.; Baltimore, U.S.; Moerdijk (Rotterdam), the Netherlands; Dubai, the United Arab Emirates; Singapore; Brisbane, Australia; and Toluca (Mexico City), Mexico. Interested bidders must first register with Ritchie Bros. and will be required to file a US$2 million deposit to bid on the vessels. Full details about the auction are available on the Ritchie Bros. web site (


Recommend This Page
Enter an email address