The MV Frances Barkley, a passenger and cargo vessel that plies the waters between Port Alberni, Bamfield and Ucluelet, goes into drydock at Canadian Maritime Engineering on Jan. 6, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Shipyard upgrade on Port Alberni’s waterfront means MV Frances Barkley retrofit happens at home

Canadian Maritime Engineering expands equipment to accept larger vessels

For the first time in the history of Lady Rose Marine Services, the MV Frances Barkley is undergoing its annual retrofit at home.

Earlier this month, Lady Rose Marine owner Mike Surrell teamed up with neighbours Pacific Towing to move his freight and passenger vessel about 100 metres to Canadian Maritime Engineering.

“I’m very excited about it because all the money will stay here in the Valley,” Surrell said as he watched his 40-metre (130-foot) vessel slowly move up the centre railway at CME into drydock.

Surrell usually sends a crew with the MV Frances Barkley to Point Hope Shipyard in Victoria for its annual retrofit.

READ: Ucluelet mayor says highway closure shows need for car ferry between Port Alberni and West Coast

When he purchased Lady Rose Marine Services about 12 years ago he looked for somewhere local to do the annual repairs and inspections on his vessel, but there was nothing available. “I told them 12 years ago, you build it and we will come. Well, they built it and we’re here.”

Canadian Maritime Engineering has spent $750,000 on improvements to its Port Alberni waterfront facility to make this partnership happen, CME operations manager Simon Schofield said.

“CME has spent a considerable amount of money upgrading the centre slipway at this centre on Bird Street. We have a 450-tonne certification on that cradle system,” he explained. “The old system was pretty rickety. We could haul 75 tonnes before, so it’s quite an upgrade.”

The upgraded slipway can take a vessel that is 40 metres (130-feet) long and 450 tonnes maximum weight. The MV Frances Barkley maxes out on length. It is the first vessel to use the new system.

“This is something Mike (Surrell) and I had been talking about for the last several months,” Schofield said. With Pacific Towing getting involved, “it was the three neighbours basically involved in the project.

“It’s really exciting, just the planning. It’s been a year for me with this new cradle. We’ve hired an extra 12 people and we’re hoping to bring in another 12.”

Canadian Maritime Engineering is inspecting the Frances Barkley’s till shaft, pulling the variable pitch shift and propeller to do some regular machining, he explained.

This is all for a biennial Lloyd’s (of London) insurance inspection. Every four years with one customer CME can expect a larger, more detailed retrofit, which means some regular business, Schofield said.

The Port Alberni company has already attracted new business, with bigger vessels lined up for work on the new cradle at the Bird Street facility. The company’s second location is also up and running, between Canal Waterfront Park and the Alberni Pacific Division (APD) Sawmill west of the city on the Alberni Inlet.

“We’re going to build a substantial shipyard here in Port Alberni and this is just another phase of that happening,” he said.

The Frances Barkley will be out of commission until approximately Jan. 31. The Carry Em will run on regular sailing days until then, with limited service for freight and passengers. Only hand-loaded freight will be accepted.

While residents needing space on the Carry Em can call Lady Rose Marine Services (Phone 250-723-8313) and book ahead, no day trips will be offered during the retrofit.

RELATED: The iconic MV Lady Rose passenger vessel has been sold again

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Staff members from Canadian Maritime Engineering watch carefully as the MV Frances Barkley is slowly put into drydock on the waterfront in Port Alberni on Jan. 6, 2020. This is the first time the passenger and cargo vessel has been able to undergo retrofitting right in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Staff members from Canadian Maritime Engineering watch carefully as the MV Frances Barkley is slowly put into drydock on the waterfront in Port Alberni on Jan. 6, 2020. This is the first time the passenger and cargo vessel has been able to undergo retrofitting right in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

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