A man working with an Egyptian contractor posted the ships on Facebook Marketplace, hoping to get $15 million for the three ships — a fraction of the $460 million it cost to build them.
‘One last ditch effort … before they go to the scrap yard,’ says North Vancouver man trying to find a buyer
Justin McElroy · CBC News
· Posted: Jan 11, 2024 7:10 PM EST | Last Updated: 9 hours ago
The Facebook Marketplace posting for the three Pacificat ferries, built by the B.C. government in the 1990s but now set to be scrapped by the Egyptian government. (Rob Arthurs)They might be the most infamous ships in the history of British Columbia: three B.C. Ferries that were hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, couldn’t run as fast or efficiently as promised, and were partly responsible for sinking the NDP government of the 1990s.
And now, they’re back.
On Facebook Marketplace.
“We’re seeing if there’s one last ditch effort we can make before they go to the scrap yard,” said Rob Arthurs, an international trade consultant, who became aware the Egyptian government was planning to destroy the Pacficat Explorer, Discovery and Voyager.
“It’d be a shame to see these things dismantled and put away.”
Current photos of the ferries provided to CBC News show them in a deteriorated condition, but with many of the original pieces of equipment common to B.C. Ferries vessels in the 1990s. (Rob Arthurs)Arthurs signed a contract with the Egyptian company tasked with getting rid of the ships, in the hopes of finding a potential buyer for the three boats in the province where they were built, with both him and the company potentially benefiting from the profits.
He’s posted the ships on Marketplace, hoping to get $15 million for the three ships — a fraction of the $460 million it cost to build them.
“I would love to see them be re-purposed, whether it’s back as a ferry, or somebody using it as private yacht.”
The biggest political controversy of the ’90sOver the course of a decade, the tale of the Pacificats — or Fast Cats, as they came to be known — dominated British Columbia politics.
The project was officially unveiled in 1994, with the aluminum catamarans deviating from the standard B.C. Ferries design.
Two successive NDP premiers (Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark) believed they would cut sailing times on the Vancouver-Nanaimo ferry route by 30 minutes, while also kickstarting a new era for the province’s shipbuilding industry.
The snack bar from one of the boats seems to be untouched from the time they sailed in the Georgia Strait. (Rob Arthurs)But the vessels cost double what they were originally budgeted for. When finished, they ended up not significantly cutting crossing times, had mechanical issues, and created dangerous waves and additional pollution.
The opposition B.C. Liberal Party frequently used the ferries as an example of NDP mismanagement on their way to winning 77 of 79 seats in the 2001 election, and subsequently sold the boats in 2003 to Washington Marine Group for $20 million.
From there, they were eventually bought by a United Arab Emirates company, before they were given to the Egyptian government, where they have seemingly sat vacant for years.
Will the idea float? Photos of the ferries provided to CBC News show them with plenty of wear and tear, but the same 1990s tinged carpeting and chairs that they were built with. Cafeteria signs display a Nanaimo Bar for $1.55, and there’s a large sign that says “Passages Gift Shop.”
But the question remains: given their history of mechanical problems and deteriorated external condition, who would take a chance on the fast cats?
While the exterior of the ferries bears the blue and red colour scheme of boats from the 1990s, the “Abu Dhabi MAR” signage comes from the time the three ships were owned by a United Arab Emirates company in the 2010s. (Rob Arthurs)”The particular engineer … tasked with dismantling and scrapping [these fast cats] said, ‘You know what? That’s just not right. They’re not anywhere near their end of life,'” said Arthurs.
Arthurs argued that new innovations in motors over the last two decades could solve some of the issues associated with the waves from the boats, though he admitted any prospective buyer would need to put in due diligence to see if the boats could be salvaged.
It could be a colourful end to a colourful chapter of B.C.’s nautical history. But whether he’s successful in his longshot quest or not, Arthurs says he’ll continue to have a fondness for the boats — while having similar feelings towards B.C. Ferries as a lot of British Columbians do.
“I moved to Comox Valley from North Vancouver [last year], but the ferries just killed me,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how many times we stood there waiting at the terminal with cancellations.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.