By Mark Cardwell

Ocean Group has landed a four-year contract for the repair and maintenance of a small French Navy vessel that patrols the waters around the sparsely-populated French archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, just south of Newfoundland. A spokesperson for the Quebec City-based dredging, towing, salvage and ship repair company hopes the modest contract with a foreign power will help land larger ones with the federal government here at home.

“We see it as a great calling card,” said Philippe Filion, Director of Public and Corporate Affairs for Ocean Group. “If a foreign government chooses us, then we think and hope the Canadian government would consider us when issuing contract tenders.”

According to Filion, Ocean Group had solicited the Marine Nationale Française for years in the hopes of winning the contract for the regular and emergency repair of Fulmar, a fishing vessel cum patrol ship that has been stationed in Saint Pierre and Miquelon since 1997. Built in 1991 in Boulogne and bought and modified for the French navy in 1996, the 40-metre, 550-tonne vessel has been serviced at two different shipyards in Nova Scotia over the past 20 years. However, Filion said the French found the two yards – Irving’s facility in Halifax and the Lunenburg Shipyard – were either too big or too small.

Like Goldilocks, he said the French found the perfect fit at Group Ocean’s shipyard on Isle-aux-Coudres, a small island in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. That yard can handle new-build projects for ships under 1,000 tonnes and repair ships under 5,000 tonnes. “Yes, our yard is 1,000 kms east of Halifax, but it best responds to their needs,” said Filion. That was proven, he added, by the speed of emergency repairs done to Fulmar during its inaugural visit to the Ocean Group yard in May and June. “We resolved a major problem in four days instead of seven,” said Filion.  “The French were very happy.”

He said the ship will return to Isle-aux-Coudres for six weeks in the fall for regular maintenance, and when needed over the next four years. Filion said the Fulmar contract should help to earn Ocean Group more serious consideration in the awarding of federal shipbuilding and repair jobs. The company notably failed to land any of the $90-million contracts awarded by the Canadian government in July 2015 to build 12 new SAR Lifeboats. Wheatley, Ont.-based Hike Metal Products and Chantier Naval Forillon of Gaspé are each building a half-dozen of the vessels.

In April, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, Dominic Leblanc, announced the government’s intention to put out tender offers for the construction of eight more of the speedy aluminum vessels, which are self-righting and capable of operating in extreme weather and 12-metre seas. “We think the Fulmar contract demonstrates our capacity and abilities,” said Filion.

In addition to the 150 employees who work at the yard on Isle-aux-Coudres, Ocean Group has some 700 people working in its offices and on its fleet of 550 barges, 36 tugs and six dredger boats, making it the largest private fleet in Eastern Canada. The company also rents facilities at the Centre navale shipyard in Caraquet, NB. “We’re a partner at that facility, which is being upgraded,” said Filion. He said the New Brunswick yard could soon be able to accommodate Fulmar and ships of similar size in need of regular or emergency repair.