A mid-life upgrade, not a mid-life crisis

Dec 20, 2019

By Cindy Chan

The Spirit of Vancouver Island will go on – and in more ways than one.

The titular vessel is one of two Spirit classes in BC Ferries’ fleet, the other being the Spirit of British Columbia. The Spirit of Vancouver Island is currently undergoing its mid-life upgrade on the ship. Last year, the Spirit of British Columbia had its mid-life upgrade, according to Mark Wilson, vice-president of strategy and community engagement for BC Ferries.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island set sail for Remontowa Ship Repair Yard S.A. in Gdansk, Poland on Sept. 14, 2018 for the upgrade. Improvements will include conversion of the propulsion plant to run on dual fuel (natural gas and marine diesel oil); new engines and a liquefied natural gas fuel system; upgrades to more efficient air-conditioning equipment; upgrades to the passenger area with new carpeting and an additional washroom; upgrades to the passenger elevators including renewal of mechanical and electrical drive components; expansion of the gift shop and addition of the new Arbutus Coffee Bar; renewal of propulsion equipment components including rudders, steering system, bow thrusters, propellers and gearboxes; and new machinery control system, navigation system, internal communication system and safety and evacuation systems.

Wilson says one of the most significant upgrades was the switch to liquefied natural gas (LNG) for two reasons – it’s more environmentally friendly and it is more cost-effective in the long run.

“Although LNG is still a fossil fuel, it is a much more environmentally friendly fuel than the ultra low-grade sulphur marine diesel we burn throughout the rest of the fleet,” Wilson explains. “Overall, in the company, fuel is a considerable portion of our operating budget. We spend well over $100 million a year in fuelling the fleet. This conversion to LNG has significant operational savings of $5 to $10 million a year.”

The mid-life upgrade program is part of BC Ferries’ asset management program. BC Ferries typically keeps their ships for 40 to 45 years. Around each ship’s 20-year mark, they undergo an upgrade, which includes updating and renewing passenger amenities, as well as the propulsion, HVAC and air-conditioning systems.

“After 20 years, you need a major overhaul or modernization,” Wilson says.

BC Ferries’ slow season is in the winter, so that’s when many of the upgrades occur. About 120 days has been set aside to work on the Spirit of Vancouver Island.

“This upgrade ensures the vessels get have another 20 to 25 years of useful life remaining to serve the community reliably and safely, with a focus on the environment,” Wilson says.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island will return to British Columbia in the spring of 2019 and be ready for summer service. For more information, visit bcferries.com.