SSA negotiating ship conversion fees

The price was more than double what was originally expected.

The Steamship Authority will hold a special meeting next week regarding the conversion of its new freight vessels. — Courtesy SSA

How the Steamship Authority plans to go forward with converting the three newest freight ferries will need to wait another week. The Steamship Authority board decided during a Wednesday, March 29, meeting to reconvene next week to give staff time to negotiate a contract over the conversion of the Aquinnah, Monomoy, and Barnstable. 

It was revealed during a Port Council meeting earlier this month that among the bids that came in for the conversion fees of three new freight ferries the authority purchased last year, the lowest bidder projected a cost of $20 million per vessel. The expected costs were $9 million per vessel. 

The initial timetable was to have the vessels ready by this summer, but Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis said the vessels may not be ready until next spring, and delaying the project could save money. 

Davis said that negotiations were underway with the low bidder, which was Alabama Shipyard, and asked the board for a special meeting to discuss the contract. 

Council members expressed a desire to move forward with the project despite the costs and extended timeframe, although they were not thrilled about the jump in costs. 

Martha’s Vineyard representative Jim Malkin said he was “distressed” by the situation, and urged the bid package be renegotiated. He added that the spiked costs may impact the SSA’s other capital projects. 

Falmouth representative Peter Jeffrey wanted to know how this budgetary failure occurred. “I would like to basically figure out why … we were so off on our budget estimates for the conversions,” he said. “Knowing how and why we failed will help us understand moving forward how you’re doing the estimates, and how we can evaluate when we’re making those, whether or not your estimates are accurate.” 

Davis said the SSA staff will pull together the information regarding the estimates, prices, and how other capital projects could be affected. 

Board chair and Nantucket representative Robert Raney agreed with Jeffrey, saying that a report or audit should be done on the budgeting process. “This was disappointing,” he said. “Being so far off on estimates and all that … it’s a timing issue, getting this all done, and not only that, we’re possibly looking at putting this all back out to bid again. This is big, and it’s disappointing it happened this way.”


  1. “Disappointing” that the bids came in more than double the estimate. That’s an understatement!
    Guess who will wind up paying the extra $33 million?
    The Steamship Authority buys 3 used vessels, is committed to their purchase and essentially has no idea no much it will cost to refurbish them. How is this possible?

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