DeJongh Signs $7.6 Million Contract for New Ferries

New catamaran “experience will be better than it ever has been”

Two spiffy new 85-foot passenger ferries will whisk visitors and locals alike between St. John and St. Thomas in the future, thanks to a contract signed by Governor John deJongh last week.

The governor signed a $7.6 million contract on Monday, April 16, with Louisiana-based Midship Marine, Inc. which won the bid to build two passenger ferries for the route, according to information from Government House.

The boats will be 85-foot aluminum catamarans capable of transporting up to 250 passengers and should be delivered to the territory sometime in late 2013, according to the statement from Government House.

“The vessels will replace the aging fleet that now shuttles passengers between the islands,” according to the Government House press release.

That “aging fleet” consists of several dilapidated boats which require routine maintenance to keep plying the waters between St. John and St. Thomas. Officials expect the new ferries to improve ferry service and reliability.

“The two new vessels we are purchasing will greatly improve the speed, service, reliability and capacity of the ferry service that so many Virgin Islanders and tourists depend on every day,” Governor John deJongh said in the prepared statement.

“The ferry experience will be better than it ever has been, once these catamarans go into operation, improving daily life for many St. John residents who commute to St. Thomas, and enhancing the vacations of thousands of tourists who travel between the islands each week,” said the governor.

Currently Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services, which have exclusive franchise rights to operate the ferry runs between St. Thomas and St. John, own their vessels. When the new ferries arrive next year, however, they will be owned by the government, according to a report in the V.I. Daily News.

“The government is going to own them as part of the mass transit fleet,” V.I. Department of Public Works Highway Program Manager Wynstan Benjamin was quoted in the Daily News story. “And they’ll [Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services] lease them. They will be required to maintain them; that will be part of the lease agreement.”

Benjamin did not return repeated phone calls from St. John Tradewinds requesting information about the new ferry boats.

The ferries, costing $3.25 million each, will be paid for with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to the statement from Government House.

The federal funds include two separate earmarks from the Department of Transportation plus a $3 million grant from the federal stimulus program, according to the Daily News report.