The mayor of Port Hardy said he is pleased BC Ferries has followed through on its commitment to provide a new vessel for the link between the North Island and the Mid-Coast.
The BC Ferries Commissioner announced Wednesday approval to acquire a used vessel to provide direct summer service starting in 2018 between Port Hardy and Bella Coola. The vessel, currently named the Aqua Spirit, will also replace the 44-year old Nimpkish.
The Aqua Spirit was built in 2000 and will accommodate more than 35 vehicles and 150 passengers and crew. At least one Port Hardy district councillor said last month he was hoping the new vessel chosen would have more capacity. The ferry that used to service this route, the Chilliwack, had capacity for 112 vehicles and 400 passengers/crew.
“What I think Port Hardy would like to see is a ferry that would allow for growth in the tourism industry,” Coun. Fred Robertson told The Gazette in mid-March.
On Wednesday, Mayor Hank Bood said “it’s really good for the district that BC Ferries has followed through.”
“While it (the Aqua Spirit) has less capacity (than the Chilliwack) for cars and passengers, I think it’s a major upgrade in terms of quality of ferry and I think it’s going to be enough to provide the service that we need,” said the mayor.
Following the approval from the commissioner, the provincial government announced it will contribute $15 million to BC Ferries to purchase and operate this Aqua Spirit.
“The province recognizes that the new service will result in incremental costs to BC Ferries over and above the existing service on route 10S, which is why we are contributing $15 million to BC Ferries to help ensure that this new direct-summer service has a successful start,” Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone said through a news release. “With the upturn in tourism and particular interest in the Great Bear Rainforest, we expect this new route 28 to become an important complement to local tourism initiatives.”
BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins said BC Ferries launched an international search to secure an appropriate vessel.
“We looked at numerous ships on the global market using both experienced ship brokers and direct contacts,” said Collins. “We believe this vessel, with its’ strong sea-keeping ability, size and enhanced amenities, will provide an excellent experience for customers exploring the spectacular Great Bear Rainforest.”
BC Ferries will take possession of the ship in August 2017 and says it will undergo major upgrades from the fall of 2017 through the spring of 2018. All passenger areas will be refurbished including lounges, the galley, washrooms and outer-deck spaces.
This new service route provides access for visitors to the Great Bear Rainforest and create additional interest in tourism along the mid-coast and through the Cariboo-Chilcotin for years to come, according to the government release.
Summer service is scheduled to begin in 2018 and will run from mid-June through mid-September on the direct route between Port Hardy and Bella Coola five times per week. The ship will also provide service to other mid-coast ports of Bella Bella, Ocean Falls and Shearwater in the summer, as well as in the off-season.
The voyage between Port Hardy and Bella Coola will take approximately 10 hours and is planned to be conducted in the daytime to maximize tourism potential. BC Ferries said it will be engaging with the mid-coast community regarding the sailing schedule and the naming of the vessel.