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BC Ferries put heavy load on new ship in attempt to fix propeller problem

One day last week, 18 fully loaded gravel trucks rolled onto the vehicle deck of B.C.'s newest ferry, the Coastal Celebration, the last of the three Super C-class vessels to arrive from Germany.

In an unusual test, engineers filled the ship to its maximum to see if they could sink it far enough to get the propellers deeper into the water to reduce the noise and vibration it makes when it's running.

"They wanted to simulate normal operating conditions," said Deborah Marshall, a spokesperson for B.C. Ferries, in an e-mail.

While Marshall insisted there is nothing wrong with the new ferries, sources told the Tyee the Coastal Renaissance and Coastal Inspiration have had serious problems since they went into service earlier in the year. The problems include high fuel consumption and cavitation, a condition that can lead to vibrations, noise, a loss of thrust and damage to the ship.

In October B.C. Ferries announced the Coastal Renaissance would be spending more days tied up at the terminal than it is in service, part of a cost saving announcement.

NDP ferries critic Gary Coons said the ferries ride too high in the water, causing the propellers to churn the surface more than they should and leading to the cavitation problems. Making the vessels heavier may or may not solve the noise and vibration problems, he said, but it will add to fuel inefficiency.

"I think there's major concerns about those vessels," said Coons. "Obviously there are some major design flaws. I hope these are warranty issues. We wouldn't want this to turn into a foreign ferry fiasco."

Broder Hinrichsen, the head of design for Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft, the shipyard that built the three new ferries, said the three vessels met the specifications B.C. Ferries had set in its contract with the shipyard. "The three vessels are absolutely to the specifications."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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