By R. Bruce Striegler

John Shaw, Seaspan’s Vice-President, Government Relations and Business Development says that the company’s progress on yard improvements to build new ships for the Canadian Coast Guard is proceeding as scheduled. “If you drive by our North Vancouver site, you’ll see a number of new buildings that are almost ready for occupancy. In fact, we took possession of the sub-assembly shop in November.The facilities, now about 50 percent complete, will be finished, equipment installed, tested and operational by October next year.” As well as new buildings, Seaspan’s yard improvements will replace the old rail-based yard transportation system with self-propelled modular transporters, and an 80-metre high, 300-tonne capacity gantry crane will arrive at the Vancouver yards in January to be operational by April 2014.

Seaspan is spending about $200 million in infrastructure improvements which include seven new fabrication buildings and paint shops, a new shipbuilding gantry crane and new load-out pier. The yard upgrading will accommodate the shipbuilding work announced in October 2011 under the federal government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). At that time, Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards was chosen to build seven non-combat ships encompassing an offshore oceanographic science vessel, three offshore fisheries science vessels, a polar icebreaker and two joint Navy/Coastguard support ships. The first of the three off-shore fisheries science research vessels is moving through a multi-phase design phase that began in March 2013.

“We held an initial design review earlier this year. We found and rectified several issues and are now moving into functional design and production design. Construction will begin in October 2014.” Mr. Shaw says that part of this process will involve contacting Seaspan’s supplier base before the end of the year to get information on materials and equipment so as to complete the design. “It will also help us identify long-lead items such as propulsion motors or diesels, some initial steel so that when we finish the design we can be expedient with the build and we’re not waiting for materials.”

“We needed to have our internal team in-place and we’ve been extremely successful building that team, recruiting over 60 people in the past year to fill-out our engineering, supply chain, estimating and program management groups so we’re fully capable and ready to execute these projects.” Shaw adds that in 2014 the focus will shift to production and Seaspan will recruit another 60 to 70 people to fulfil production requirements.

On other staffing and employment matters, Shaw spoke enthusiastically about training and work opportunities afforded First Nations around the NSPS program. In November, three B.C. aboriginal employment organizations created the Coastal Aboriginal Shipbuilding Alliance (CASA) with the objective of developing and delivering quality shipbuilding training programs and services for Vancouver and Vancouver Island Aboriginal people. “We’ve been working with First Nations through CASA to identify opportunities to enable them to gain training and move into the shipbuilding industry.” He adds, “We’ve had significant uptake from First Nations, fully thirty percent of our infrastructure contracts have been won by First Nations groups and they’re terrific contractors.”

Shaw says that Seaspan is moving forward in a deliberate and methodical manner, “We want to ensure that by the time we get to the actual build of the ships we’ve turned over every stone so that the build phase will proceed smoothly and we will deliver value for Canadian taxpayers. We want to build the vessels in a systematic manner to provide high-quality ships for the men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard.”

October announcement takes Seaspan’s government order book to 17 ships

In October, the federal government announced that Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards will build ten additional non-combat vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard. The Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services said, “The decision supports the long-term benefits of the Government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy in creating a sustainable shipbuilding industry once again here in Canada.” The contract award will enable the Coast Guard to acquire up to five medium endurance multi-tasked vessels and up to five off-shore patrol vessels at an additional cost of up to $3.3 billion.

Medium endurance multi-task vessels are shallow draft and approximately 65 metres in length, capable of supporting a range of Coast Guard programs and will be capable of staying at sea for up to four weeks. They will be used primarily for the deployment, recovery and maintenance of navigation aids such as buoys and will also be capable of search and rescue, fisheries management and environmental response. Offshore patrol vessels will be approximately 75 metres in length and have the capacity to stay at sea for up to six weeks. They will act as multi-use ships but primarily function as fisheries protection vessels, both in Canadian waters and on the high seas. They will also be capable of search and rescue, navigation aids support and environmental response.

Mr. Shaw notes, “This decision is very forward-looking on the part of the government, to plan and lay out these ships which will follow-on after the joint support ships and polar icebreaker. We’re working closely with the Canadian Coast Guard now to develop the designs and also develop a delivery schedule.” Shaw says Seaspan needs to fully understand what the Coast Guard’s requirements are, before the shipbuilder can begin to set specifications. “Once those fundamental things are set, we then have the ability to lay-out a schedule.”

The government’s NSPS strategy is now in its fourth phase, with the designs of the initial set of ships being finalized, as Seaspan and Irving Shipbuilding are engaged in infrastructure upgrades required to enable them to build the ships efficiently.

Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards busy with ship repair and Navy upgrades

As well as shipbuilding and dry dock facilities in Vancouver, Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards performs a range of ship repairs on vessels up to 100,000 DWT including complete vessel conversions. The company utilizes the Esquimalt Graving Dock, owned and operated by Public Works and Government Services of Canada and since 2011, the shipyards have been at work on the Frigate Life Extension Project (FELEX), an ambitious Canadian Navy program to modernize twelve Canadian patrol frigates. Victoria Shipyard’s portion of the program is actually two major contracts, which take place simultaneously; the FELEX contract with the Government of Canada and the combat system integration (CSI) subcontract with Lockheed Martin. Victoria Shipyards is the main contractor for the mid-life maintenance and upgrade work on the five West Coast navy frigates, and is a major subcontractor for Lockheed Martin’s modernization of the ship’s combat systems.

Shaw says that the Victoria yards have had considerable success with the FELEX and Victoria In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) programs “They’re working on their third vessel under the FELEX program, the HMCS Vancouver, which arrived in the shipyard in April and will be delivered back to the Navy next April. We’ve been very successful in both receiving on-time and delivering back on-time.” The work involves hull and machinery upgrades and replacing all cables. Under the VISSC program, Victoria Shipyards remains on-schedule with work on Canada’s Victoria-Class submarines. “HMCS Chicoutimi should be back in the water soon and work on HMCS Corner Brook will begin early in the new year.”

“We also have on-going ship repair business at all three shipyards. I think the highlight of the year in Victoria will be the arrival of the Grand Princess,” says Shaw. The 289.86-metre, 109,000-gross-tonne cruise ship will arrive at the Victoria yards before the end of this year, and Shaw says, “Victoria Shipyards have earned a reputation for excellence, which is why they continue to get one or two cruise ships per year.” During the week to ten days the Princess Cruise ship will be in the yard, the workforce will increase from its current 800 to nearly 1000.