By Mark Cardwell
Rubbish. That’s how the co-owner and Chairman of Davie Shipbuilding summarized a The Globe and Mail article that questioned the Canadian content of the novel navy supply ship being built at his company’s yard in Lévis, and the integrity of ownership and financing behind the project. “It tells a story that isn’t factual and that misrepresents the truth,” Alex Vicefield, also CEO of Davie parent company Inocea, told Canadian Sailings from his home in Monaco on May 1. “It has a whole lot of conspiracy theories and makes insinuations that are unproven and untrue.”
Entitled, A tale of two shipyards, the Globe article portrays both the Davie yard in Lévis, Quebec and Rauma Marine, a Finnish company in the port town of Rauma, 250 kilometres northwest of Helsinki. It was there that the seven-story superstructure was built for the Resolve-class auxiliary oiler replenishment ship.
The 2,200-ton accommodation block structure was towed from Finland by the tug Fairmont Glacier, and arrived at the Davie yard in Lévis on May 1. It is one of the biggest pieces in the massive puzzle that Davie is assembling in its conversion of a fuel tanker it bought for $20 million in Europe into a $600-million AOR ship for the Royal Canadian Navy.
The vessel is the heart of the unique ship-leasing proposal that Davie’s owners conceived of and sold to the former federal Conservative government after a 2014 fire wrecked the RCN’s last supply ship, the half-century-old HMCS Protecteur.
On schedule to be delivered by year’s end, the non-combat vessel will be operated by a 40-member non-military crew. RCN will pay Davie $70 million a year for five years, with an option to buy the ship at the end of the contract for an as of yet undetermined price.
According to Vicefield, the Resolve project has given new life to the once-moribund Lévis yard, which was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy when he and two fellow-British marine industry experts and fledgling entrepreneurs bought it in 2012. “We have 1,300 people working today in the yard,” said Vicefield. “We have made a hugely positive contribution to the Quebec and Canadian economies, and we’re very proud of what we’re doing here.”
He defended the outsourcing of the superstructure to Finland – a central focus and criticism of The Globe and Mail article – as a necessary step in the rapid completion of a first-class supply ship. “This is not just about allowing us to meet the fast-track schedule, this is about developing a new set of skills which doesn’t currently exist in the Canadian shipbuilding industry,” said Vicefield.
“It is also a perfect demonstration of how shipbuilding programs can be delivered rapidly and at a significantly lower cost by building ship sections at different sites for assembly at a central location – something which all shipbuilding programs in Canada should be adopting.” The superstructure, he added, represents only 15 per cent of the total project, with the other 85 per cent being done in Lévis.
Vicefield also slammed the Globe article’s sinister-sounding tone in regards to Davie’s ownership group and its financial dealings. “A Globe and Mail investigation has discovered the company that got the contract to provide a temporary supply ship for the Canadian navy is owned by a complex web of companies that can be traced from Canada and the United Kingdom to the tax havens of Monaco and the British Virgin Islands,” reads the article.
Vicefield said Davie’s dealing are both above board and consistent with commercial practices for offshore consortiums like his company. “Every international company from Apple to Amazon is structured like we are,” he said. “And we are actually in Monaco. I live here with my family.”
Vicefield refused to discuss another sensitive issue raised in the article – Davie’s ongoing dispute with the Quebec government over the construction costs and performance of two high-tech car ferries.
Quebec Transport Minister Laurent Lessard said in March that the government was “stuck” with Davie, and that it would cost another $100 million to get its two LNG-powered vessels finished. “It’s not like with a car or a truck, where we could walk in and say, ‘Put some tires on it and we’re getting it out of here,’” Lessard said. He called the situation “very frustrating,” said the two sides “are working more with lawyers than engineers to finish the contract,” and refused to say whether the government would do business with the shipyard again. “It’s too early to say,” said Lessard. “Everyone knows they’re a great yard, they win awards. But with these two ships, there’s a problem.”
“All I’m prepared to say at this stage is that negotiations are ongoing and moving ahead,” said Vicefield, who also downplayed Davie’s role in the ongoing RCMP investigation into Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the second-highest-ranking member of the Canadian military.
Norman was suspended as Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff in February over allegations he leaked secrets to Davie last year to help the company convince the newly-elected Liberal cabinet to continue with the Resolve project. One unnamed senior civil servant reportedly told the Globe that the government “inherited a turd” with the Resolve project.
“When we do the naming ceremony this summer people will see that we have delivered a top-quality vessel at a quarter of the cost of a new one,” said Vicefield. “Davie, he added, is proposing the same quick-fix quality solution for Canada’s acute icebreaker shortage.”
Davie responded to a federal government Request For Information (RFI) in December regarding the pricing and availability of “interim measures to provide icebreaking and towing services” for the Canadian Coast Guard. “Due to age and reduced availability of the icebreaking fleet, CCG anticipates that it may require additional icebreaking capacity provided by one to five icebreakers (heavy, medium or light) at various times over the next number of years,” reads the RFI. “Accordingly, CCG must investigate potential bridging strategies to address potential gaps in service.” According to a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada, more than 20 responses were provided by potential suppliers.
“The government of Canada is currently consolidating the information received through the RFI to determine the way forward with respect to potential requirements,” Nicolas Boucher wrote in an email to Canadian Sailings on May 2.
According to Vicefield, Davie’s proposal revolves around four modern icebreakers that were earmarked for now-shelved offshore oil and gas development projects by Shell in American Arctic waters. “We could acquire and outfit these ships for (CCG) for a tenth of the cost of building them,” he said. “We have made a unique offer to the government that I believe is the only viable and smart solution available to them.”