Bay Ferries could be eyeing U.S. navy-owned vessel for route

Carla Allen callen@thevanguard.ca
Published on February 5, 2016

The Alakai, a high-speed ferry purchased by the US Navy in 2012, is now known as the USNS Puerto Rico. Could this be a ship Bay Ferries is eyeing for the Yarmouth-Portland run?

©Photo courtesy of Defense Industry Daily

YARMOUTH – Could a former commercial ferry owned by the United States navy become the next Yarmouth to Portland boat?

A Feb. 4 report by the Associated Press says U.S. Sen. Angus King, and Rep. Chellie Pingree– at the request of the Portland mayor ­– held a conference call in December with the Navy about the possible acquisition of a vessel.

Willy Ritch, spokesman for the congresswoman, told the Tri-County Vanguard Feb. 5 that, while he cannot comment on a specific vessel, it would make sense for a surplus vessel belonging to the navy to be leased to an operator so the service could run in 2016.

“It would be a win for everybody,” he said.

“I think the navy has transports… they come to acquire vessels that in many cases have been previously used as commercial ferries.”

Ritch added the ferry service is very important to Pingree, who represents 1st District of Maine, for the economy of Portland and the state.

“We’ve got a great working waterfront in Portland and passenger ferry service to Nova Scotia that has existed in the past. It should still be part of our tradition and part of our local economy,” said Ritch.

Included in the U.S. navy’s inventory is the USNS Puerto Rico, a high-speed transport vessel, purchased in May 2012 for $25-million. The 106-metre ship was built in September 2008. The Local Xpress reports the Puerto Rico is the ship being considered by Bay Ferries.

The ship was previously owned by Hawaii Superferry, a company that went belly up in 2009. In 2010, she and her sister ship Huakai helped in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

Specifications on Wikimedia describe the water-jet powered vessel, as having an operating speed of 35 knots (65 km/h).

The ship has a capacity of 866 passengers and up to 282 subcompact cars. Its vehicle decks can be reconfigured in five minutes to carry up to 20 large trucks and 90 cars. In August 2012, USNS Puerto Rico was towed from Norfolk to Philadelphia, presumably for modification.

In a media release Feb. 4, Bay Ferries’ chief executive operator Mark MacDonald said, because the company is competing for ferry assets worldwide, Bay Ferries is limited in what it can say on the status of its search for a ship. All the company has said is it is working hard to secure a ship.

“We recognize the concerns of many people, particularly our longstanding partners in the travel and tourism industries, that ferry service out of Yarmouth continues in 2016 and beyond and are doing everything we can to reach that goal,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald has not replied to the Tri-County Vanguard request for comment.