Refit Completed on Leased U.S. Navy Fast Ferry

Image courtesy Bay Ferries

Published Jun 1, 2016 9:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

Bay Ferries of Canada has announced completion of the refit of the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command fast ferry Alakai (USNS Puerto Rico) at Detyens Shipyard in Charleston, South Carolina. 

The Alakai is now in sea trials before she departs for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Portland, Maine. She is scheduled to begin service between the two ports from June 15; her name will remain unchanged but she will be marketed as "The CAT" on the service. The catamaran ro/pax can carry up to 850 passengers, 20 trucks and 90 cars per run (or a larger number of smaller vehicles). Her service speed is 35 knots, cutting the crossing time on her new route to 5.5 hours. 

The Alakai's history dates back to the Hawaii Superferry operation. She was built by Austal USA's Mobile, Alabama yard in 2007 for use on a daily mail service between Oahu and Maui, but in 2009 her operations were permanently cancelled when Hawaii's Supreme Court ruled that she would require an environmental review. The Alakai and her sister ship Huakai were purchased at auction by the Maritime Administration in 2010, then transferred to the Navy in 2012 and renamed. Huakai is being retrofitted by a Navy contractor for use on the Westpac Express run to Guam, and Bay Ferries secured an agreement for a multi-year charter for the Alakai in March 2016 (with assistance from Maine's elected officials). 

Bay Ferries is a longstanding passenger vessel operator in Canada’s Maritime provinces, and its new service will replace the short-lived Nova Star Cruises operation on the Portland-Yarmouth route. Nova Star Cruises collapsed last year under pressure from unexpectedly poor ticket sales, despite $40 million in subsidies from the province of Nova Scotia, leaving behind more than $2 million in unpaid invoices. The firm's chartered ship, the ro/pax Nova Star, was arrested by a U.S. magistrate as collatoral; the Nova Star's owners, Singapore Technologies Marine, have since settled the majority of the claims and posted a surety bond for the rest. The Nova Star was released by the court in December and set sail shortly after. As of June 1 she was operating in the Straits of Gibraltar. 

The City of Portland, Maine is still owed nearly $80,000 from Nova Star Cruises – but it hopes that revenue its new lease with Bay Ferries will more than offset the loss. "I think it's an opportunity for the city," said city councilor Nicholas Mavodones, speaking to the Press Herald. "I think it's good we're able to have ferry service here on our city waterfront."

Bay Ferries expects regular fares on “The CAT” to run $107 one way / $194 round trip for passengers, $199 one way for cars, with service June 15 to September 30.