The Steamship Authority is acquiring two former offshore supply vessels (OSV) from a Louisiana company that were used in the Gulf Coast oil and gas industry.
These boats will eventually replace the Steamship’s current freight boats, the M/V Gay Head and the M/V Katama. The cost of acquisition, conversion and re-activation of the boats is estimated to be $30 million.
The two vessels the Steamship is acquiring - the HOS Lode Star and the HOS Shooting Star - are expected to begin servicing Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard routes as soon as the summer of 2023.
“The purchase and conversion of available OSVs is the most efficient, rapid and cost-effective path to upgrade our fleet and best serve the vehicle and freight transport needs of island residents and visitors,” said Steamship Authority General Manager Robert B. Davis. “The similar design of the vessels also promotes economies of scale through interchangability of vessels for service needs, inventory of spare parts and crew training. Additionally, purchasing these used vessels will put the Authority in a better financial transition to plan for investigate the possible inclusion of alternative fuel technologies into its next newly constructed vessel.”
While the islands have been clamoring for more capacity about Steamship vessels - especially for vehicles - the port communities on the mainland have been decrying the impacts of the increase in trucks coming to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. And so the Steamship Authority was vague on the question of whether the new boats would provide greater capacity for cars and trucks.
"The freight decks will be slightly wider, but the overall vehicle capacity will depend on the specifics of each load," Steamship Authority communications director Sean Driscoll said. "The passenger capacity, however, may increase significantly, from about 140 passengers to as many as 350 passengers under the current modification designs."
While the decks of the new boats are 235-feet long - the same length as the Gay Head and the Katama - the vessels being acquired by the Steamship are 12 feet wider than the old freight boats (64 feet versus 52 feet).
"The maximum capacity, we haven't determined that yet," Driscoll said.
However, Rob Ranney, who serves as Nantucket's representative on the Steamship Authority Board of Governors, believes the retrofitted vessels will increase the capacity for vehicles coming to and from the island.
"These boats will - I'm not sure what the number is - but they will carry more cars and trucks," Ranney said. "It's not anticipated there will be more trips, but the boats themselves will have slightly larger capacity. I don't know the exact number, but even if it's just one more car or truck per trip, that makes a difference over the course of a summer. And the price is right. We're getting two vessels for less than the price of one brand new one. The M/V Woods Hole was $45 million, and these two combined were $30 million."
Ranney also emphasized Davis' point about the similarity of the two boats providing big advantages for the Steamship.
"Having vessels that are the same, your maintenance requirements, your spar parts, your training and reliability - it's a lot easier and less expensive," he said.
Asked how the $30 million acquisition would affect the Steamship's rates moving forward, Driscoll told the Current: "While there will be some new additional costs, specifically in terms of the depreciation cost of the vessels, from an operating cost standpoint the costs should be similar to the current operation. We’ll be looking at other factors as we continue to prepare the 2023 budget."
Following design and engineering work for conversion and reactivation, the first of the newly acquired vessels is expected to be operating on Steamship Authority routes to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by summer 2023. The Authority has an option to purchase up to two more vessels from Hornbeck by November 30, 2022, with delivery of the vessel(s) by December 31, 2022.