Sun setting on foreign ferries?

An $8 billion federal contract for Coast Guard and navy ships could mean the end of ferries built in foreign shipyards, B.C. government officials say.

Two of BC Ferries' three German-built coastal class ferries at the dock at Swartz Bay.

VICTORIA – An $8 billion federal contract for Coast Guard and navy support ships could mean the end of ferries built in foreign shipyards, B.C. government officials say.

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell said Thursday the upgrades to Seaspan facilities in North Vancouver and Victoria to construct seven new vessels will make the company more competitive, particularly for specialty ships like the icebreaker that is part of the contract.

Both Bell and Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom defended the decision by BC Ferries to contract with a German shipyard for three new large ferries delivered in 2007 and 2008.

Lekstrom said he supported the decision by BC Ferries to use competitive bidding, and suggested there would be a “taxpayer revolt” if the B.C. government put local construction ahead of cost. Bell agreed.

“The incremental cost of having built those other three ferries here would have been enormous, so I think it was the right decision at the time,” Bell said. “The good news is, with the advantages we’re gaining through this contract, that probably won’t happen again.”

Premier Christy Clark noted that smaller ferries have continued to be built in B.C., and the expansion of B.C. shipyard will increase their ability to compete on cost with European or Korean shipyards.

Bell said it’s unlikely that B.C. will go into the competitive market for freighters, but it has a chance to sell expertise in niche markets such as icebreakers abroad.