MARCH 30, 2016 — After a hitch with the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command, the former Hawaii Superferry Alakai is to return to civilian life, for a time at least, operating a passenger/vehicle ferry service for Bay Ferries between Portland, ME and Yarmouth, NS. It will be named "The Cat," reviving a name that Bay Ferries formerly used on the route, which it used to operate until 2009.
The vessel is one of two high speed catamarans built for Hawaii Superferry by shipbuilder Austal USA and delivered in 2007. The vessels operated in Hawaiian interisland service until March 2009 when environmentalists, who had long opposed the service, prevailed in a Hawaii Supreme Court case that questioned legislation that permitted the vessels to operate without an environmental review.
Hawaii Superferry subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with debts that included $135.8 million owed MARAD which had provided construction financing guarantees. In the bankruptcy auction that ensued, MARAD bought both vessels for $25 million and in January 2012 transferred them to the Navy. The Alakai was renamed USNS Puerto Rico (HST-2), Sister ship Huakai, which has a bifold stern ramp, became USNS Guam (HST-1) and in March 2013 replaced the chartered MV Westpac Express in Okinawa. That left the ex-Alakai in lay-up —until now.
On March 24, 2016 the Government of Nova Scotia announced that the province had reached a 10-year agreement with Bay Ferries Limited to manage and operate a high-speed ferry between Yarmouth and Portland,
The provincial government will provide annual funding for the ferry service, including marketing, at $10.2 million for the first season and $9.4 million for the second. There will also be $4.1 million for start-up costs that will include terminal upgrades and $9 million towards the ferry's retrofit, in lieu of two years of charter fees. Additionally, the province has entered into a an agreement with the Royal Bank of Canada respecting a letter of credit in the amount of US$5 million "to be issued by the Bank for the benefit of the United States Department of Navy, Military Sealift Command ('Navy') to secure Navy against a default by Bay Ferries Limited under the charter party for the vessel HST2 (the 'Charter Party')."
"This long-term support for a solid ferry operator provides stability and predictability for Nova Scotia businesses and tourism operators from all across the province," said the province's Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister, Geoff MacLellan. "The Yarmouth Ferry is a vital link in Nova Scotia's transportation system. It is as essential as the TransCanada highway.""With this service in place, we will bring more visitors to our province – that means more jobs for the people of Nova Scotia," he said.
The new service is Yarmouth-based, leaving Yarmouth in the morning, traveling to Portland, and returning to Nova Scotia that evening.
"We are pleased to once again provide this important service between Nova Scotia and Portland," said Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries Limited. "We're ready to aggressively market the ferry service to Americans and beyond and help boost tourism to Nova Scotia."
The 2016 season schedule is anticipated to run June 15 to Sept. 30, departing Yarmouth and Portland daily at 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. respectively and returning to Yarmouth at 9 p.m.
Bay Ferries will take possession of the ferry on or just before April 1. The vessel will then head to a shipyard in South Carolina, understood to be Detyens Shipyards, Inc., to be prepared for service.
Bay Ferries says that seating configurations will be finalized during the vessel’s upcoming work program, but passenger capacity will be at least 700 (approved capacity was 866 during her previous service). Vehicle capacity will be in excess of 200 regular passenger vehicles.