Building workers in British Columbia live aboard luxury floating hotel

Converted ferry provides accommodation for workers in booming northern British Columbia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 4:06am

Hundreds of construction workers in booming northern British Columbia take up residence this week in unique digs on board a ferry that's been turned into a floating luxury hotel.

The ageing ship will help relieve a housing shortage in a busy Canadian inland port town already bursting ahead of a promised energy boom that could last more than a decade.

The Silja Festival - a Baltic Sea ferry made over as the Delta Spirit Lodge - will spend at least a year docked outside Kitimat, British Columbia, where it will provide housing for 600 workers upgrading a smelter for Rio Tinto Alcan, a US$3.3 billion project which is expected to be completed next year.

After that, the ship's owners hope more contracts will float their way as major energy companies like Chevron, Petronas and Royal Dutch Shell push ahead with proposed liquefied natural gas export (LNG) projects along Canada's Pacific coast.

"This kind of investment would never occur without the kind of mega-opportunities that are growing in the Pacific Northwest," said Andrew Purdy, of Bridgemans Services, the company behind the hotel, which was imported and refitted at a cost of C$4 million (HK$28 million). "We saw the opportunity and we put it all together, but it was effectively driven by industry."

If just four major LNG projects go ahead, it is estimated 15,000 extra beds will be needed in coastal northern British Columbia at peak construction.

For employers, offering free top-end accommodations complete with a basketball court, a cinema, a fine-dining room that serves three hearty meals a day and a captain's lounge for relaxing may be a draw in a very competitive labour market.

Luring skilled labour away from other thriving areas, like the Alberta oil sands and the Bakken region driving North Dakota's fracking boom, will take more than good pay. Workers are looking for perks.

The floating hotel, with its all-inclusive facilities and gourmet meals, may be just the ticket for companies that want to take temporary living to the next level.

The ship, which used to sleep more than 2,000 people on overnight trips across the Baltic Sea, has been retrofitted with 700 single-occupancy rooms, each fitted out with a memory foam bed and flat-screen TV.

In addition to providing room and board for the temporary construction workers, the ship has meeting facilities and even a private dining area that can be rented out for special events.

A quick scan of real estate listings for Kitimat shows just how tight the market has become. Only two houses are listed for under C$200,000, and both are fixer-uppers.

Rents too have skyrocketed, putting pressure on long-time residents who can no longer afford their homes, Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan said.