The Steamship Authority board voted unanimously Monday afternoon to authorize the purchase of a third offshore supply vessel for roughly $5.6 million.
Like the previous two vessels the SSA acquired for conversion into ferries, the new acquisition is a “Lode Star” class vessel, owned by Hornbeck Offshore Services, LLC. Davis said a 2.5 percent brokerage fee is built into the price. The purchase proposal and vote came on the coattails of a substantial windfall for the ferry line in the form of Federal Transit Authority (FTA) grant funds.
The new vessel would replace the MV Sankaty, one of the SSA’s freight ferries that was identified in a report as nearing the end of its useful life.
Through a memorandum of understanding with Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA), the SSA will rake in $35.8 million. Davis credited CCRTA executive director Tom Cahir, U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, and SSA treasurer Mark Rozum for making the grant a reality. The grant consists of funds from several different acts and programs channeled through the FTA and CCTRA to the ferry line. The overall value of the grant is about $50 million, however the SSA has received roughly $19 million of that figure.
“This is a very significant accomplishment for our region,” Cahir told the board.
“On behalf of the board, thank you very much for your support,” board chair Moira Tierney, New Bedford’s representative, said.
“Thank you, Tom, thank you very, very, much,” Jim Malkin, the Vineyard’s board representative, said.
Cahir has been a conduit to game-changing money for the SSA in the past, notably in the thick of the pandemic, when the ferry line was in fiscal jeopardy. Cahir came through with $12 million in federal dollars when the SSA was desperate in April 2020. Keating played a major role in that funding, too.
Sealing the deal required a vote to approve a memorandum of understanding with CCTRA. Nantucket board member Robert Ranney blurted a motion to approve the memorandum as Tierney was talking.
“Sorry to jump in on that,” Ranney said, “but when you see something that’s too good to be true, you gotta vote it immediately.”
The vote was unanimous.
The grant money can be used to convert ferries, but not to purchase them, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll later told The Times.
In response to a press question about naming the new vessel, Driscoll said there remained a “robust list” of vessel names from the naming contest of the other two offshore supply vessels (now known as the Aquinnah and the Monomoy), and a selection from that list will be offered for consideration at a joint meeting of the Port Council and the board on Dec. 13.
As to the bidding for the conversion of those two vessels, Mark Amundsen, the SSA’s director of marine operations, said bid packages went out Nov. 9, and are now due back Jan. 9. Davis said the due date was pushed back a bit due to high interest, the holidays, and because requests were made. He said he expects an award to be made at the ferry line’s January board meeting.
Malkin asked if the time extension on bid returns would delay the expected in-service times for the new vessels.
“Potentially,” Davis said. The SSA now expects delivery of the first vessel in June or July, he said.
Once one of the new ferries arrives, Davis said there will be a 30-day training period for crew, though crew availability and the demands of the summer season may complicate that.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to approve $140,620.39 worth of “miscellaneous engine parts” for the freight ferry Katama. The parts include turbochargers, fuel injectors, emission kits, and pumps. The Katama is one of the vessels the Aquinnah and the Monomoy will replace. Davis said the parts will be used for planned maintenance on one of the Katama’s engines, and that work will be done “in-house.”
Peter Jeffrey, Falmouth’s representative on the board, asked if an evaluation had been executed on the Katama and the Gay Head.
Davis said a surveyor is “preparing what the value of those vessels will be both on a scrap basis and on a market basis.”
Davis said it’s possible the ferry line may need to rely on the Katama next summer, based on when the conversions of the newly acquired offshore supply vessels are done.
“I just remain concerned about how much money we’re putting in both the Katama and Gay Head,” Jeffrey said. Jeffrey said he hoped there was six to nine months of life left in those ferries, and that they will have resale values.
When Jeffrey gave his vote to approve, he said it was with reluctance.