October 22, 2015

Front Street Shipyard launches partnership with Norwegian shipyard

Courtesy / Front Street Shipyard
Courtesy / Front Street Shipyard
A carbon-fiber ferry built by Brodrene Aa, the Norwegian shipyard partnering with Front Street Shipyard in Belfast.

Front Street Shipyard in Belfast is partnering with a Norwegian shipyard to market, sell and build carbon-fiber ferries in the United States under the new company name Arcadia Alliance.

Front Street President JB Turner told Mainebiz that a memorandum of understanding has been signed with Brodrene Aa, a world leader in the construction of high-speed ferries made of carbon-fiber composites, to design and market the fuel-efficient ferries in the United States and build them at his company's shipyard on the Belfast waterfront.

"This allows us to exchange information and get the ball rolling here in the U.S.," Turner said, noting that unlike U.S. ferries built of aluminum or fiberglass, Brodrene Aa's carbon-fiber ferries are lightweight and consume less fuel, releasing fewer emissions into the air.

Turner said as many as 30 jobs could be created at Front Street Shipyard if the new company proves successful in landing high-speed ferry contracts on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The shipyard — which has a four-pillar business plan involving production and customized boat-building, refitting yachts, general dock-and-boatyard services and special projects related to offshore wind and ocean energy — currently has 95 full-time employees.

"It seems to be the future for the ferry business," he said of Brrdrene Aa's carbon-fiber ferries.

Turner said Brodrene Aa's construction methods are particularly well suited to Front Street Shipyard's capabilities, which include 165-ton and 485-ton travel lifts and the five-story, 22,000-square-foot Building 5, which is large enough for constructing, repairing and refitting boats of up to 120 feet long. Building 6, which Turner said has received all the necessary local and state permits and awaits "one small" piece of financing, would add another 22,000 square-foot facility large enough for boats of up to 150 feet long once it's built at the Front Street complex.

"Given Front Street Shipyard's modern facility and boat-building capabilities, we believe their team can deliver the same high-quality vessels in the United States that we produce in Norway," Leif Riksheim, chairman of the board at Brodrene Aa, said in a release about the Norwegian company's partnership with the Belfast company.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, American ferries carry nearly 103 million passengers and just over 37 million vehicles per year. Turner said Arcadia Alliance's initial marketing efforts will focus on state and federal agencies seeking to replace aging, inefficient passenger vessels.

Located in Hyen on the west coast of Norway, Brodrene Aa designs and builds carbon-fiber passenger vessels in its 86,000-square foot Norwegian facility situated along a fjord. The 60-year-old company has 110 employees and has built 50 carbon-fiber ferries to date. In the 1980s it pioneered air cushion technology on passenger vessels, producing vessels for the international market that operated with speeds of nearly 50 knots. In the 1990s, it made high-end luxury mega yachts as well as composite products such as train-fuselages and subsea protective covers. In the early 2000s, it re-entered the fast-ferry business with the world's first commercial passenger vessel made in carbon fiber.

Capitalizing on Maine's composites expertise

Turner credited Maine Composites Alliance and Martin Grimnes, founder of Harbor Technologies and a native of Norway, with bringing the capabilities of Maine's composite manufacturers in general, and Front Street Shipyard in particular, to the attention of the Norwegian company.

"Martin is from Norway," Turner said. "He put the pieces of the puzzle together."

Steve Von Vogt, executive director of the Maine Composites Alliance, told Mainebiz the creation of Arcadia Alliance capitalizes on many years of ongoing discussions involving MCA and its various members and the Norwegian company. "This isn't coming out of nowhere," he said. "We've been working on this for 10 to 15 years."

All that advance work, Von Vogt said, should enable Arcadia Alliance to quickly move forward in developing and marketing the carbon-fiber ferry designs for U.S. waters. Feasibility studies that are already completed, he said, show that the lighter-weight vessels pay for themselves in 10 years due to the savings in fuel costs.

"Our role is to lend our expertise and put together the naval architects [and others] to steer the vessel through the U.S. Coast Guard's permitting process and to line up subcontractors to work on the project as needed," Von Vogt said. "The clear ability of Front Street Shipyard to build this design is a key factor … Between Front Street and Kenway Corp. [whose CEO, Kenneth Priest II, is one of the six principal partners of Front Street] we can put together a complete team."

Von Vogt said Maine Technology Institute helped by funding a study that lays out the roadmap of how to proceed with developing a U.S. market for high-speed carbon-fiber ferries and that Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King provided additional support.

Turner said Front Street Shipyard hopes to begin construction on the first fast ferry in 2016.

Read more

Front Street Shipyard to add up to 40 jobs as result of $667K federal grant

FAME decision advances Front Street Shipyard's expansion

$4M waterfront expansion could help bring Belfast ferry-building jobs

Front Street Shipyard helped pave way for Belfast road project


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