Old ferries find a second life in the South Pacific

FERRY PRINCESS | The former Queen of Chilliwack now sails among the tropical islands of Fiji

A former BC Ferries employee is buying up boats, for a bargain

Despite moving halfway around the world, the former Queen of Chilliwack is the same old boat, for the most part. Her hull has been painted black—better suited to the warm, corrosive waters of the South Pacific. The cafeteria has swapped the clam chowder for chicken curry. And a 30-foot-long awning now covers the outer decks from occasional tropical downpours.

But the queen is now a princess—re-christened Lomaiviti Princess II by her new owner, George Goundar, after his purchase of the ship last September. Goundar is a former B.C. resident and senior manager at BC Ferries, where he spent two decades before returning to his native Fiji to retire in 2011. He has purchased two ships from BC Ferries to date (the other, the Queen of Prince Rupert, was bought in 2011), sailing them for 17 days across choppy seas to the South Pacific. The five-year plan is to buy four to six more boats and grow his 200-employee Fijian ferry company, Goundar Shipping, by another 150 employees by 2019.

The son of a ship captain, Goundar spent his childhood hauling bags of coconuts onto his father’s 50-foot passenger-only ferry. In 1985 he migrated to Canada, the first of a wave of some 12,000 Fijian migrants who found safe harbour in Vancouver. After working odd jobs as a gas station attendant, a grocery stocker and a bouncer, Goundar enrolled in maritime engineering at the Pacific Marine Training Institute in North Vancouver (now BCIT Maritime Campus). His career as an engineer at BC Ferries would see him living and working all down the B.C. coast, from Prince Rupert to Skidegate to Powell River.

“I always intended to move back to Fiji by the time I was in my 50s,” says Goundar, born in 1964, by phone. “You never forget your native homeland.”

Built in Norway in 1978, the Queen of Chilliwack had undergone a $15-million retrofit just before being purchased by Goundar, with a new car deck, doors and sewage treatment system added. (The ship had initially been sold by BC Ferries to a dock in South Vancouver before Goundar stepped in with his offer; Goundar even brought the Fijian prime minister with him to Vancouver for the final inspection last fall.) BC Ferries argues the sale was a good deal for taxpayers—that it cost $1.5 million to $2 million a year just to keep the ship in storage. But recent BC Ferries service cuts, combined with reports that the ship was sold at an 88 per cent write down, fuelled heated debate about the sale. While neither Goundar nor BC Ferries would disclose the price, reports pegged it at around $1.5 million.

Goundar, for his part, says the process was transparent and equitable: “It was a fair tender—the best payer gets it, and we were there.” And as he sees it, the Queen is also in a better place now. “It wasn’t too happy dry-docked in a cold climate. It has the sun and tropical waters now. Why wouldn’t it be happy?” 

The Afterlives of Ferries

MV Mill Bay
Built: 1969
Sold: 2011
Status: Now called the Buttle Shuttle, it’s used as a private transporter in Port Hardy

Queen of Esquimalt
Built: 1963
Sold: 2011
Status: Stripped for scrap metal in Ensenada, Mexico

MV Tenaka
Built: 1964
Sold: 2016
Status: Bought by Lady Rose Marine for a private service between Bamfield and Ucluelet

Source: Vesselfinder.com