New SSA vessel to set sail in June

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The SSA freight ferries Barnstable (left) and the Aquinnah getting their hull coatings applied at Alabama Shipyard. —Courtesy of SSA

The newest freight ferries in the Steamship Authority’s (SSA) fleet are nearing their big debut.

SSA general manager Robert Davis says the new freight ferry the Barnstable is expected to be taking passengers and vehicles on the Nantucket route around June 17, while the Aquinnah is expected to be available on the Vineyard route starting in July. 

Both the Barnstable and the Aquinnah will be launched in the next couple of days from a shipyard in Alabama, according to Davis, where additional work will be done on the water before the vessels are transported north. 

Work has been ongoing on the vessels since April of last year. 

Alabama Shipyard, the company completing work to convert the ferries, focused on the Barstable first and work is expected to be completed by the end of May. SSA crew will then sail the vessel to Massachusetts while also undergoing training.

The incoming freight ferries, originally used as offshore supply vessels, needed to be modified for the SSA’s waterfronts; work included adjusting the boats’ lengths and changing the stern area to match the authority’s transfer bridges. 

Including change orders, the conversion of the vessels cost over $14 million. 

The SSA originally negotiated down a bid from Alabama Shipyard that would have cost $20 million per vessel conversion, a much higher amount than originally anticipated. Steamship officials estimated the project at $9 million per vessel. After renegotiating, the cost for conversion was put at nearly $14 million.

Including the acquisition price of $5.6 million for each boat, the entire cost to the SSA is over $20 million per vessel.

The SSA is still working with the shipyard on a “conversion package” for a third freight vessel, the Monomoy, which was acquired alongside the Aquinnah. Davis said this contract is expected to be worked out soon. 

There may be additional costs in bringing the Aquinnah up north. Considering the busy summer season, Davis said the SSA could not expend another crew to go south. He said they are considering hiring an outside crew to bring the Aquinnah to local waters.

“We haven’t worked out all of those details yet,” Davis said. 

Once the new freight ferries are in operation, Davis said the SSA plans to test the market with the freight ferries Katama and the Gay Head. 

The Sankaty, a freight vessel on the Vineyard route, will be kept on standby in Fairhaven.

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