by Mark Cardwell

The concerted efforts of two New Brunswick towns to revive a once-active shipyard in their region have helped to land a major new tenant.

Quebec City-based Ocean Group recently signed a long-term lease with New Brunswick Naval Centre in Bas-Caraquet. “Business prospects, combined with the availability of (the shipyard), the recent upgrade of facilities, and the government’s will to revive it, constituted a real opportunity,” Ocean Vice-President and General Manager Jacques Tanguay said at a signing ceremony at the shipyard on the southern coast of the picturesque Baie des Chaleurs on August 5. Attendees included N.B. Premier David Alward, and Ocean Group founder and President Gordon Bain.

According to Ocean officials, Ocean will begin construction of a 3-section, 350-foot floating dry dock with a 7,000-tonne capacity at the yard in early 2015. “It’s another step in the diversification of our markets (and) both bolsters and increases the range of services we can provide to our customers,” company spokesperson Philippe Filion told Canadian Sailings. Once completed, he added, the floating dry dock will be used to repair both the company’s ships – like its 36-metre-long tug, the Ocean Tundra – and other large ships that it can’t currently accommodate in its shipyard facilities in Quebec. The project is expected to create as many as 77 jobs at the N.B. yard, which has been closed for the past seven years.

Founded in the 1920s as Service Maritime Bas-Caraquet, the shipyard built wooden and then steel fishing boats until the 1990s. When the East Coast fishery tanked, however, the yard relied on repairs for survival until 2007, when it closed.

The neighbouring towns of Caraquet and Bas-Caraquet bought the facility in 2010, and created a non-profit cooperative called the New Brunswick Naval Centre. With funding from both the province and the federal government, the coop hired Quebec business management expert Michel Beaudry to help re-launch the beached yard. “I recommended a vision and a focused business plan,” said Beaudry, who works for SIM, a Shawinigan, Que.-based business consultancy and training firm. According to Beaudry, the new vision, which was adopted by a steering committee and the project partners, was to focus on the marine industry in general and the fishing boat building industry in particular. “The market is there because the N.B. fleet is very old, about 30-35 years on average,” he said.  “And the N.B. government has created programs to help fishermen buy new boats.”

The first step in the business plan, he added, was the renovation of the shipyard’s main building – the aptly-named, 60-foot-wide, 646-foot-long Building No. 1. Some $685,000 was spent last year to insulate the building for year-round work, as well as to replace its outdated electrical, lighting and plumbing systems.

The second step was to find shipbuilding companies that might be interested in setting up there. “We got a lot of calls,” said Beaudry.

One interested company was Atlantic Boat Builders (, a new N.B. company that designs and builds high-end fishing boats made of composite materials that are lighter, faster and more energy efficient that traditional fishing industry boats.

Since moving into Building No. 1 earlier this year, Atlantic Boat Builders has built and sold two 45-foot composite fishing vessels that have earned the company rave reviews.

According to Beaudry, those reviews generated both calls and visits from officials and owners of several yards in Atlantic Canada, the United States, and from Quebec – notably Ocean Group, the Verréault Group in Les Méchins, and Méridien in Matane. “They were all very impressed by what they saw,” said Beaudry. 

In addition to the yard and the buildings, he said the yard has a drydock that can take ships up to 400 tonnes, and a slipway for ships up to 900 tonnes. Beaudry also noted that a nearby industrial park has a variety of subcontractors and suppliers in steelmaking and other trades involved in shipbuilding and repairs. “We have a supply chain there,” he said.

Under the new Ocean Group deal, which is essentially a ten year lease, the Quebec company will take over Building No. 1, which is about to undergo a $1 million renovation to make it wider. Atlantic Boat Builders will move into a new, smaller facility – dubbed Building No. 2 – which will be built this fall at a cost of $2.2 million.

“We are very excited about being partners in this rejuvenated shipyard,” said Filion. The project, he noted, means that Ocean Group will soon be present in four provinces: N.B., Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland-Labrador.

Filion said that, once built, the 3-piece floating dry dock will be towed to where it is needed. Hopefully it will not meet the same fate as the company’s two barges that went aground on the Gaspe Peninsula late last year while being towed on the St. Lawrence in bad weather. Both barges became locked in ice near St. Anne des Monts, and spent the winter there. Filion said both vessels were destroyed, and a salvage operation will begin in late August to recuperate steel. “That’s all we can hope to get from them,” he said. “But sometimes that’s the risk of doing business.”