Boat builders are vying for a chance to construct a new, custom-built ferry to run between St. John and St. Thomas. The boat, likely to start service in late 2024 or early 2025, will hold at least 40 more people than the largest ferry operating between the islands, officials said Monday.
Prospective boat builders have until April 28 at 4:30 p.m. to submit their proposals for the new 100-foot ferry capable of carrying at least 300 passengers. The size of the ship came after study of peak-hour needs, which currently leave some passengers waiting on the next boat, said Derrick Gabriel, commissioner of the Department of Public Works.
“One of our biggest bugaboos that this administration has been dealing with is inter-island transportation,” Gabriel said. “Just making sure that we have more reliable transportation between those two.”
The new ferry will also have dedicated space for passenger luggage, he said, rather than current designs where the luggage is often stowed haphazardly at the ship’s stern.
While there are 300-passenger ferries on the global second-hand market, most are far from the territory and may not comply with U.S. regulations. Furthermore, the Federal Transportation Administration granted the U.S. Virgin Islands $5.1 million in February 2022 for a newly built ferry.
Several of the interested companies visited the St. John pier in March to assess the physical infrastructure and the ferry routine.
Gabriel said the proposals would likely come in under $7 million. The catamaran-style boat will need to be about 25 feet wide, have the capacity for 500 gallons of water and 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and be fully Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. Anyone wanting to bid can do so here.
Once the ferry is built and delivered, DPW will have the difficult task of deciding which transportation operator will get to lease the boat. Gabriel said it was a careful and deliberate process.
“We’re going to work with both ferry companies to determine a path forward,” he said.
A new St. Croix-to-St. Thomas ferry is still a priority, Gabriel said, but could be vastly more expensive as the boat will need to traverse 35 miles of open sea.