A multi-million dollar dolphin extension destined to upgrade Victoria's cruise ship terminal has been lost at sea.

Massive piles were being shipped to Victoria by barge when they somehow spilled into the ocean about 250 nautical miles from Vancouver, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

The authority said it isn't exactly certain why the custom-ordered steel went overboard, but that it may not have been tied down properly as the barge encountered rough waters. There were no injuries sustained by any crew members.

"The load was on the top deck and obviously wasn't secured properly, and so unfortunately the load was lost at sea," said GVHA CEO Ian Robertson. "My understanding is that it doesn't happen very often, but it is what it is, and as I said we're working on a contingency plan."

While $6.8 million has already been invested in the project, with $1.9 million of that coming from the federal government, the setback will cost the GVHA an additional $3-4 million dollars.

"That's required to re-engineer and design, and to source steel locally. It's not something you can go out and get from Home Depot," said Robertson. "We're hoping to have that all figured out by the end of this week, early next week."

It means the authority will have to temporarily finance the additional funds required. 

The authority says the money will eventually be recovered from infrastructure sustainability fees collected from cruise lines, but it will extend the recovery process by one year.

The boat was on day 29 of a 30-day voyage from Shanghai.

The piles were meant to extend Pier B at Ogden Point by 55 metres and allow it to serve bigger cruise ships like the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas, which has committed to stopping in Victoria beginning this May.

"We think that we'll probably have to work on an alternate plan for maybe the first three, four arrivals of the ship," said Robertson. "We're working with Royal Caribbean and with the B.C. pilotage authority to see if we can accomodate that ship on another pier on a temporary basis."

He said the Royal Caribbean, which is replacing a lower-capacity ship, will bring roughly 1,000 additional passengers per trip and "significant" tourism dollars to Victoria's economy.