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Hornblower Yachts picked to operate ferries to Alcatraz

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  • 9/28 SF Chronicle
    Published Wednesday, September 28, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle Hornblower Yachts picked to operate ferries to Alcatraz Union workers at Blue and Gold
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2005
      Published Wednesday, September 28, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle

      Hornblower Yachts picked to operate ferries to Alcatraz
      Union workers at Blue and Gold dismayed at change

      By Carl Nolte

      The National Park Service has picked Hornblower Yachts Inc. to take
      over the lucrative contract for ferry service to Alcatraz Island, it
      was announced Tuesday.

      The Park Service and Hornblower will now engage in exclusive
      negotiations for the Alcatraz service, with a new contract expected by
      March 1 of next year, the park service said.

      If the negotiations are successful, Hornblower will replace the Blue
      and Gold fleet as the Alcatraz ferry operator. More than 1.3 million
      visitors went to the former prison island last year, and Blue and Gold
      was paid over $14 million to provide ferry service.

      The award was greeted with dismay by leaders of the two unions that
      represent boat skippers, deckhands and ticket agents who work for Blue
      and Gold.

      "We are kind of shell-shocked about this," said Ray Shipway, business
      agent for Local 40 of the International Organization of Masters, Mates
      and Pilots, which represents 28 of the Blue and Gold's 43 union

      Marina Secchitano, regional director of the Inland Boatman's Union,
      which represents 15 of the company's deckhands, said her concern was
      over protection of the workers. "We'd like an explanation of why this
      company with a very good record didn't keep the Alcatraz contract,"
      she said.

      Hornblower's workers are not represented by unions, she said.

      Blue and Gold, the largest tour and ferry boat operator on San
      Francisco Bay, has had the Alcatraz contract since 1994. It lost out
      in bidding this year under provisions of the 1998 federal Concessions
      Management Improvement Act, which eliminated a provision that gave
      preference in contract renewal to present concessioners. The idea of
      doing away with that provision, said park service spokeswoman Holly
      Bundock, was to "enhance competition."

      The new contract runs for 10 years, starting next March.

      Three companies submitted proposals for the Alcatraz service --
      Hornblower, Blue and Gold and the Red and White Fleet. Blue and Gold
      officials did not return calls asking for comment, but Tom Escher,
      owner of the Red and White Fleet, said he thought that the park
      service had acted "in the public interest" and that the award was
      simply a business decision.

      Red and White was the first operator of the Alcatraz ferry service
      when the island was opened to visitors in 1973. But the original Red
      and White fleet, operated by Crowley Maritime Co., an old-line San
      Francisco Bay operation, was spun off to the Blue and Gold Fleet in
      1994 along with the Alcatraz contract. Four of the company's boats
      remained with Red and White and are operated by Escher, who is the
      grandson of the late Thomas Crowley, who built the company into a
      major transportation firm operating tugs, barges and passenger

      Jonathan Jarvis, the National Park Service's Pacific Regional
      Director, said he was pleased with the Hornblower proposal but
      wouldn't release details pending completion of negotiations. The
      current contract allows Blue and Gold to charge $16 per adult for the
      trip to Alcatraz, which includes an audio tour. The concessioner pays
      a 21.5 percent franchise fee to the government.

      Hornblower, which operates tour and dinner boat cruises at six
      California ports, has 25 boats, ranging from large vessels used on
      dinner cruises to smaller yachts. Besides San Francisco, Hornblower
      operates in San Diego, Newport Beach, Marina del Rey and Lake Tahoe.

      Loss of the Alcatraz contract is expected to be a blow to Blue and
      Gold, which runs a dozen round trips to the island a day, nearly all
      of them filled to capacity. In addition to the Alcatraz service, Blue
      and Gold runs tour boats and operates ferry service to Tiburon and
      under contract to Vallejo, Alameda and Oakland.

      Blue and Gold will continue to run the Alcatraz service until a new
      contract is in effect.

      E-mail Carl Nolte at cnolte@...
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