Duty on Seabus replacement may mean foreign-built ships will cost more, say New Democrats

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SURREY – British Columbians deserve to know if import duties will mean the foreign-built replacement for the Seabus will end up costing more than if a B.C. shipyard was awarded the contract, say the New Democrats.

“There is generally a 25-per-cent tariff on ships less than 129 metres in length, and that could mean more than $6 million in additional costs for this vessel,” said New Democrat transportation critic Harry Bains. “We already know that this decision to buy foreign ships is costing British Columbians jobs, but the Liberal government needs to explain how this won’t cost more money as well.”

There was a $2 million difference in bids between B.C.-based Allied Shipyard and the Dutch-owned multinational which won the contract and intends to build the replacement ship in Singapore.

The tarrif on foreign-built ships – a federal measure to encourage domestic shipbuilding – also came to light after B.C. Ferries purchased the three C-Class vessels from the German Flensburger shipyard. B.C. Ferries successfully applied for an exemption to the tariffs, a move that led to a general exemption for ships greater than 129 metres in length. But the current Seabuses in operation are approximately 35 metres.

“On top of the questions about tariffs, I also wonder if Translink has fully factored in the cost of maintenance and repairs into the long-term costs of the new vessel,” said Bains. “Will parts be available locally or will they need to be shipped from offshore yards? Will that add to potential downtime when refits are necessary?”

Bains added that shipping jobs overseas represents another missed opportunity and contradicts what the premier herself has said about shipbuilding jobs.

“It won’t be just a matter of us building B.C. Ferries,” the premier said last October. “We want to build ferries for countries all over the world here.”

“The premier has repeatedly taken credit for the federal decision to award a shipbuilding contract to British Columbia firms, and she said there would be spinoffs that would benefit B.C.,” said Bains. “But the first opportunity the Liberals have to create those spinoffs, and they decide to buy from a foreign firm.

“It fits a disappointing pattern with this government,” said Bains. “From raw log exports to foreign miners to shipbuilding, this government has not put the interests of British Columbia’s workers first.”

Adrian Dix and B.C.’s New Democrats believe the Liberals are not up to the challenge, and are offering the change British Columbians are looking for, one practical step at a time.