At a shipyard in Mobile, Ala., two former offshore service vessels from the oil and gas industry are beginning their transformation into Steamship Authority freight ferries.

“We’re in the process of conversion,” director of marine operations Mark Amundsen told the authority’s board of governors at their monthly meeting Tuesday.

Still bearing their former names — M/V HOS Lode Star and M/V HOS North Star — the future M/V Aquinnah and M/V Barnstable entered dry dock earlier this month at Alabama Shipyard on the Mobile River, near their original home on Louisiana’s Gulf of Mexico coast.

If all goes as planned, the converted ferries will start their routes between Cape Cod and the islands next summer, followed by a third identical vessel from the same maker.

The North Star, a former offshore service vessel, awaits its next life as a Steamship freight boat. — Courtesy of the Steamship Authority

The Steamship Authority purchased the three boats last year from Hornbeck Offshore Services and this week agreed to execute a right of first refusal to buy a fourth, after the expiration in March of a previously-issued option to purchase the offshore vessel.

“If they receive an offer from a third party, they’ll notify us and at that point we have 14 days to determine, first, whether we have the funds for it or whether this is something we would like to proceed with, and then convene a board meeting to authorize it,” general manager Robert Davis said.

The Steamship Authority then would pay a 20 per cent deposit to Hornbeck, according to the first refusal agreement, which in itself is free of cost, Mr. Davis said.

An additional vessel, converted on the same pattern as the other three, would give the SSA a quartet of sister ships with identical characteristics and interchangeable components, SSA officials have said.

However, the shipyard costs for converting the vessels proved higher than estimated, angering some members of the governing board who have asked for a report explaining why the authority’s estimates were so low.

“I haven’t seen that yet … I’d like to see that next month,” Martha’s Vineyard governor James Malkin said Tuesday, after Mr. Davis requested authorization for the M/V Martha’s Vineyard’s dry dock and overhaul this fall at a cost of $1.2 million when last year’s estimate was $835,000.

A number of factors accounted for the latter discrepancy, Mr. Davis said, including the discovery that a larger area of the superstructure needs blasting and coating and more hull plating needs replacement than originally envisioned.

Other contracts, even those issued months ahead of time, may sprout change orders at the shipyard for similar reasons, said Mr. Davis, who agreed to give a more detailed explanation of the M/V Martha’s Vineyard contract changes, along with those for the freight ferry conversions, at the June 20 board of governors meeting.

Among other business Tuesday, the Steamship Authority board agreed to renew its contract with New Bedford-based barging company 41 North Offshore to provide alternative freight service to Nantucket in exchange for a $213 docking fee at the SSA terminal and a percentage of the company’s freight income.

Mr. Davis announced the release of most executive session minutes from 2022 and 2021, including negotiations with employee bargaining units on Covid precautions at the SSA.

Board members also briefly discussed the possibility of varying the white-and-black paint on Steamship Authority ferries, with Mr. Davis hinting at a potential splash of color next year to celebrate the M/V Nantucket’s 50th year in service and the M/V Governor’s 70th.

“We’re looking to do something to commemorate [the anniversaries],” Mr. Davis said.

“We had talked about the stripe on the side, whether we would want to refresh that stripe to a different color, and things like that,” he said.