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Vancouver-Nanaimo foot passenger ferry service delayed at least another year

The loss of an investor will delay a Vancouver Island-Lower Mainland foot-passenger ferry service for at least another year.
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The loss of an investor will delay a Vancouver Island-Lower Mainland foot-passenger ferry service for at least another year.

Island Ferry Service, which once again hoped this would be the year they would start service between Nanaimo and Vancouver, has announced they will not be in service until 2020 at the earliest.

 One of two Island Ferries vessels being built in Singapore. Photo by Island FerriesOne of two Island Ferries vessels being built in Singapore. Photo by Island Ferries

“We won’t be running this summer, that’s for darn sure,” said director of operations Dave Marshall. “The ships wouldn’t be here in time anyway, and we need to work on the terminals, and none of that will happen until we have financing in place.”

If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it is. At least twice in the last five years, the company has said a final piece of financing would be necessary for their project to hit the seas. In 2014 and 2017, Marshall said passenger ferry service was imminent; it just needed more money.

This year the company said it lost an investor in early April, and they have yet to replace that pledge of money.

“Once again, we find ourselves looking for a piece of financing,” he said.

He said it is a “tough slog” to raise capital as they are a start-up and trying to break into a market where their biggest competitor is BC Ferries.

Marshall would not say how much money they are looking for, but he estimates they are 80 to 85 per cent toward their goal.

There are 32 seed investors and one major investor, who Marshall said confirmed participation in the project this spring. “We literally have all the pieces in place,” he said, noting they have come to financial terms and conditions with both the Port of Nanaimo and TransLink in Vancouver.

But the company still needs ships. They have planned to have two $20-million catamarans for the service, each able to carry as many as 450 passengers. They intend to travel with no more than 376 for comfort, and estimate getting from one terminal to the other in about 70 minutes.

Marshall said they have contracts in place with a shipyard for the vessels. “Damen [Shipyard in Singapore] builds them as stock vessels. They currently have four under construction and sell them as customers come along,” he said. The company has paid a $2.25 million deposit, he said.

The money the company is trying to raise is to cover taking delivery of the vessels, operating costs, terminal upgrade costs and reserves for maintenance and fuel among other things.

Marshall said he is confident 2020 is the year they start the service.

“We will be running next year,” he said. “I’ve already bet a fair amount of money on it. I’ve invested a fair amount of money in this and I’m happy with that investment.

“I wish it was paying out now, but I’m comfortable with where we are going to be.”