The consultant the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority hired this year to gauge whether two new ferryboats it had ordered were up to par said the boats' manufacturer “appears to be rushing” the job and was "not very organized” ahead of inspections of the boats this summer.

The consultant later identified several problems with the new boats, including the use of dissimilar metals which contributed to corrosion in some cases. 

"Metal Shark appears to lack direction in coordinating final outfitting and finish work of the vessel," Barry Geraci of the Shearer Group said in a June report about the first catamaran the RTA's contractor designed and built. 

The RTA released the inspection reports from the Shearer Group, a Houston-based naval architecture, marine engineering and surveying firm, and other internal documents about the ferries to The Advocate on Friday in response to a public records request. 

The documents largely support the picture the RTA and the ferries' private operator, Transdev, have painted about the boats in recent months, which is that a series of design flaws, including premature corrosion, have been keeping the new vessels out of service. 

Officials from the shipbuilder, Metal Shark of Jeanerette, have disputed those claims, saying the only reason the boats are not in use is that the RTA doesn't have the onshore infrastructure to accommodate them.

Metal Shark has denied claims of corrosion and cited the fact that the boats passed Coast Guard inspections as proof that they are ready to carry passengers today. 

As of Dec. 12, the dispute had not been resolved, according to emails made public Friday. 

Metal Shark did not offer any immediate comment on the newly released reports. 

The fight between the transit agency and its contractor has cast a shadow over a project that once was touted as part of plans to further open up the city's riverfront in time for New Orleans' tricentennial in 2018.

The boats, for which the RTA is paying $5 million apiece, were supposed to be more efficient than the aging ferries now on the Canal Street-Algiers Point line. They were originally expected to arrive in the spring, but that deadline was not met after the Coast Guard identified design problems that Metal Shark then fixed. 

The RTA and Transdev later found still more problems which they said were significant enough to keep the boats grounded. 

Those included Metal Shark's apparent failure to put buffers between dissimilar metals used to attach certain boat equipment, which can cause corrosion. And corrosion was indeed found around a hydraulic pump and reservoir, and a potable water tank, according to the October report by the Shearer Group. 

"There appeared to be areas of inconsistency of proper isolation of dissimilar metals of attachment hardware, with some areas having nylon washers and other areas without," Geraci wrote. 

The RTA said it also found problems with the boats' lifesaving equipment, and it was concerned that fumes from the fuel tanks would waft up and permeate the enclosed space in which they are located when a crew member entered that space to check the fuel levels. 

Metal Shark said it has solved the latter problem by providing fuel-level indicators elsewhere and outfitting the tanks with special equipment. It admitted to "slight surface oxidation" on the hydraulic pump, but not to corrosion. And it said the problem with the lifesaving equipment is a training issue that Transdev must solve. 

In another Nov. 15 letter, Transdev Vice President Justin Augustine advised RTA board President Flozell Daniels that the RTA could consider seeking arbitration with Metal Shark, requesting a formal corrective action plan from the company or trying to reach a settlement. 

As late as Dec. 12, the documents show, the boat dispute had still not been resolved, according to an email from Augustine to his team. 

"We will meet Metal Shark on the ferryboat Thursday (Dec. 13) at 12:45 p.m. to show them the issues we have been speaking about," he wrote. 


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.