Corrosion of two New Orleans vessels delays relaunch of ferry line

A dispute over the seaworthiness of two modern ferries has caused further delay to the relaunch of a ferry line in New Orleans, Louisiana. The planned route would carry passengers across the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Algiers Point, but was postponed after corrosion was discovered within the new catamaran-style vessels.

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has been trying to replace its aging ferries since 2015, according to an article in The New Orleans Advocate. In 2017, the RTA commissioned a Jeanerette-based company, Metal Shark, to build high-speed aluminum boats that would offer improved energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs than previous models. Despite the long lead time, Metal Shark missed its initial delivery date set for March 2018 and required an additional $750,000 to complete the order, which was added to the ferries' $10 million price tag.

The vessels were ready for inspection two months later, but the initial walkthrough by the U.S. Coast Guard identified several design flaws that prevented them from earning certification. After Metal Shark addressed the problems, one of the ferries was moved to the Mississippi River to begin training transportation crews on their operation. The RTA halted training just one week later following the failure of a door seal, which lead to drainage problems for the vessel that required large-scale maintenance. But Metal Shark's manufacturing troubles did not end there.

Further inspections uncover corrosion
The start date of the refurbished ferry line is still unclear, as federal inspectors have recently uncovered instances of corrosion that threaten the operational integrity of both vessels. Signs of deterioration are nothing new for maritime experts, as the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) estimates the global cost of seafaring corrosion to be upwards of $2.5 trillion, progressing at a rate of $50 to $80 billion per year. Despite this, RTA officials were caught off guard by the corrosion because the ferries have not yet been fully deployed.

"The National Association of Corrosion Engineers estimates the global cost of maritime corrosion to be $2.5 trillion USD."

Upon further investigation, inspectors found the shipbuilders used dissimilar metals to affix equipment to the vessels' core structure and failed to insert buffering materials. On December 21, a follow-up article from the New Orleans Advocate reported that corrosion was found around a hydraulic pump and reservoir system and alongside a potable water tank. These discoveries have forced the RTA to keep the new ferries out of service until a long-term solution is found, though Metal Shark disputes the claim that premature corrosion has caused any delay.

Conflict between the transit agency and the shipbuilding company is still ongoing, but the incident demonstrates the need for rigorous corrosion testing procedures during the manufacturing process. While Metal Shark's problems started well before any corrosion began to form, the premature deterioration of its vessels might have been averted by partnering with an accredited environmental testing laboratory. The precise review and research procedures offered by labs with A2LA calibration helps companies anticipate corrosion-related issues that might otherwise cause major production delays.