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CHEK News - January 13, 2016

Growing outrage over ‘bargain’ BC Ferries ship sale

There’s growing outrage over the sale of a BC Ferries ship for what critics say was a rock-bottom price.

The Queen of Chilliwack went through a $15 million re-fit just three years ago yet it was reportedly sold for less than $2 million and two more Vancouver Island ferries could be next.

After five decades, the Queen of Burnaby’s coming to the end of her run.

The ferry will soon be put up for sale, after being plagued by mechanical problems for the last few years.

“BC ferries is an embarrassment,” Powell River resident Chris Walford said this week. “It’s ridiculous.”

The ship, which went through a $12 million re-fit in 2011, is once again out of service on the Comox to Powell River run, replaced by a much smaller vessel.

“People are not happy at all,” said ferry user Rick McIntosh. “I mean there’s got to be a better way. We have to have some sort of a back up system.”

Queen of Chilliwack could have been used as a back-up

Many are questioning why the Queen of Chilliwack wasn’t kept as a back-up. Instead, the ferry — which underwent a $15 million refit in 2012 — was recently sold to a former BC Ferries employee George Goundar of Goundar Shipping in Fiji who says he paid less than $2 million.

“Apparently there’s virtually no backup available on the fleet at all so to sell a ferry you just spent $15 million on for cents on the dollar, given this particular circumstance, makes no sense to us at all,” says NDP ferry critic Gary Holman.

BC Ferries is refusing to do interviews on this story but a spokesperson told CHEK News it would cost approximately $1.5 to $2 million a year to keep the Chilliwack on stand-by.

“It’s not as easy as just keeping a bicycle just in case your car breaks down,” explains Serge Buy of the Canadian Ferry Association, which represents 95 per cent of ferry operators in Canada. “You have to keep a number of expensive machinery intact and there’s insurance and inspections so it’s not as easy as let’s keep a ferry on the side just in case another one breaks down.”

But there’s growing outrage about why the ferry — which had new navigational equipment, new life saving equipment, electrical and generator system upgrades, engine overhauls and work done on the car deck just three years ago — was sold for so little.

“There certainly seems to be something fishy going on with this whole sale,” says Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “The lack of transparency from BC Ferries is frustrating although perfectly inline with the organizational culture there. They need to open their books and let us see what happened.”

With both the Queen of Burnaby and the Queen of Nanaimo being put up for sale soon, BC Ferries says talking about the deal could compromise those sales.

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