The conversion fees for the new freight ferries purchased by the Steamship Authority last year are now projected to be more than double what officials originally expected. Steamship general manager Robert Davis said that bids recently came back on the conversion fees, and the lowest bidder projected that it would cost $20 million per vessel; he said they were expecting the conversion fee to be about $9 million per vessel.
The increase was revealed during a Port Council meeting this week.
The Steamship bought three new vessels last year, recently named the Aquinnah, Monomoy, and Barnstable. They are meant to replace three of the aging freighters currently in the fleet.
The Steamship may have also been overly optimistic about getting the boats operational and in service by the summer, as originally planned. Davis said they may not be ready until the spring of 2024, due to the busy schedule for boatyards; delaying the project could also save them money.
Davis said that work associated with the conversion includes making doors on the vessels watertight, and doing steel work so the boats can fit into the existing slips. The vessels will need some machine work, as well. But Davis said that a big piece of the conversion won’t really be visible. It’s interior bulkhead work.
Port Council members were not dissuaded by the increase in cost and the extended timeline, at least vocally.
“The opportunity is so good, I don’t care if it takes two years,” Port Council vice chair Nathaniel Lowell said. “This is something that is very important for the Authority, for both Islands, and for planning the future of the Authority and extending the life of other vehicles … we gotta take our lumps and move along.”
Davis did say that they could reduce the cost of the conversion fee if they push back the timeline of construction. He said that because boatyards are busy, the costs would be higher to get the project done by the summer. He said the Steamship has an opportunity to negotiate with the low bidder on the timeline. Depending on how those discussions go, the Steamship could opt to restart the bidding process.