By R. Bruce Striegler

Brian Carter, President of Seaspan Shipyards says, “We completed our shipyard upgrade October 30, two months in advance of the projected date and significantly under budget,” adding that the expansion was largely constructed on space that didn’t have buildings on it.” Carter notes that it was important to have a plan that gave the company an efficient shipyard for the future, but also would allow other work to proceed while the improvements were underway. The upgrade consists of seven new buildings and shops, a 300 tonne gantry crane, and new load-out pier completed in 2013.

Funded entirely by Seaspan, the $170-million yard reconstruction project has transformed Vancouver Shipyards into the most modern facility in North America, and will establish a shipbuilding and ship repair centre of excellence on the West Coast. “The work means thousands of people will get the opportunity for an exciting career in shipbuilding. The upgrades allow for the effective and efficient delivery of non-combat vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy.”

One critical part of the work has been the installation of the yard’s new 300-tonne gantry crane. The company involved more than 4,400 students from 25 schools to submit names for the crane, choosing Hiyí Skwáyel, (pronounced hee-yay sk-why-el), the Squamish language translation of “Big Blue”. Due to its massive size, the crane was shipped from China in three large pieces, the fixed leg, hinged leg and main girder, along with thousands of smaller components, to Fraser Surrey Docks, before being offloaded and transported to Seaspan’s North Vancouver location. The crane is the biggest of its kind in Canada, towering 80 metres high and spanning 76 metres wide. Assembly, hook-up, testing and commissioning were completed this summer.

In November 2013, three Aboriginal training and employment organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create the Coastal Aboriginal Shipbuilding Alliance. Seaspan executives said previously that such an agreement would help Aboriginal people gain the necessary skills to be part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). Mr. Carter comments that during the Shipyard Modernization Project, 25 per cent of the construction work in the shipyard was performed by First Nations joint venture companies.

“We place a priority in working with the Aboriginal community, not on the back of any federal requirements through the NSPS, since there are none, but we believe it is the right thing to do. We are located on the traditional territories of both the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the Squamish Nation, so it’s important to us to develop and maintain a good partnership with the First Nations communities. “At the end of the day, these companies or joint ventures outright won the work, and they knocked it out of the park, doing a great job.”

Shipbuilding begins on first offshore fisheries vessel

At an October 27 ceremony, Seaspan executives, along with Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, announced that Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards has started construction on two initial production blocks for the first NSPS ship, the Canadian Coast Guard’s Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel (OFSV). Brian Carter estimates the new vessel construction work will result in the creation of 5,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs over the next 20 years, to produce almost $500 million per year in gross domestic product for B.C.’s economy.

Carter says, “We’re on plan, we said we’d start first OFSV in October this year, which we did. We’ll start the remaining blocks in early 2015, so everything is onward and upward. We’re developing the off-shore oceanographic science vessel which is what we build after the three OFSVs and we’re in the design process for the joint support ship which will be the largest ship ever built in western Canada.” Describing the shipbuilding process, Carter says, “Ships are built in blocks that start with a piece of steel plate. The plate is cut, stiffeners are attached to give strength. This is called a panel, and the panels are joined together, resembling a five-sided block. The blocks are then outfitted with everything we can possibly put in it such as piping, ventilation, electrical systems and equipment. We try to get as much of that in during this process.” Once out of the pre-outfitting stage, the block is painted, multiple blocks are joined together forming grand blocks which, when all assembled, form the ship.

“This work completes the vessel to about 92 per cent, and that’s as much as we can do on land.” Once in the water, the ship is commissioned, systems are connected and testing takes place, this work will be done at Seaspan’s Victoria shipyards. The key to the construction however, Mr. Carter says, is getting the blocks as pre-fitted as they can be. He notes that blocks are grouped since those requiring more outfitting take longer to complete. “Forty blocks make up the off-shore fisheries science vessel and there are six families of blocks. We plan the schedule to level-load our facilities, so we truly operate as a manufacturing assembly line.”

In 2011, the federal government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) selected Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards to build seven non-combat ships encompassing three offshore fisheries science vessels, an offshore oceanographic science vessel, a polar icebreaker and two joint Navy/Coastguard support ships. Last October, the federal government announced that Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards will build ten additional non-combat vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard. That 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. Mr. Carter says Seaspan is primarily focused on the immediate NSPS work underway, but initial planning has started, and he says the Seaspan team will be ready to begin the process for the additional vessels coinciding with the completion of the polar icebreaker.

Canadian navy FELEX program proceeds ahead of schedule at Victoria Shipyards

Seaspan has invested an additional $15 million to upgrade facilities at Victoria Shipyards, including an operational centre to support testing, trials and commissioning of the new federal vessels, improvements that will be complete by the end of December, 2014. Brian Carter talks about projects on-going at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards, saying, “Our core work is two major programs, one the Halifax-class modernization, the Frigate Life Extension Project, often known as FELEX.” 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. Shipyard teams have moved to the fourth of five ships, HMCS Ottawa, currently in the Victoria yard. “This program continues to deliver ahead of schedule, it’s a fantastic partnership we have with the Department of National Defence, Lockheed Martin Canada and our Victoria Shipyards team.”

Carter notes that Seaspan will be able to extend the teams currently working on the FELEX program to a new contract with Lockheed Martin Canada. In June of this year, the Royal New Zealand Navy contracted Lockheed to upgrade two frigates and fit with new radars, electronic detection and other above-water systems, a self-defence missile system, decoys against missiles and torpedoes, and an upgrade to the hull-mounted sonar. Carter says the New Zealand navy wanted to utilize the Canadian expertise, and they will sail the frigates to Victoria Shipyards. “This is very similar to our work on the Canadian ships, and the New Zealand ANZAC frigates will follow the FELEX program starting late 2016. We are very excited to have this opportunity, it’s a big shot in the arm for our Victoria team.”

The second major government program at the Victoria Shipyards is the Victoria In-Service Support Contract (VISSC), a refit and maintenance program for the Canadian Navy’s four Victoria-Class 2400-ton diesel-electric submarines, ex-Royal Navy vessels built in the United Kingdom. In 2008 Public Works and Government Services Canada awarded VISSC to the Canadian Submarine Management Group (CSMG). Lead contractor Babcock Marine, a British company, owns CSMG, and has extensive experience working on Royal Navy submarines. The government extended the program in 2013, giving Babcock Canada Inc. a further five years, and Carter says the first of the refits will be delivered within weeks. “We’re ramping up for the second boat in that class, HMCS Corner Brook, beginning some of the early work now.”

Brian Carter also points out that Victoria Shipyards, with its current work force of 800, is one of the largest ship repair companies on the west coast of the Americas, “It is humming with work. As well as the long-term naval ship contracts, we have three cruise ships booked for 2015, the BC Ferries new cable ferry construction is underway, general commercial work for U.S. and Canadian clients remains strong.” In response to questions about the use of LNG in new vessels, Carter says that LNG is a fuel really beginning to take hold. “We’ve involved in several opportunities to convert vessels from diesel to also run on LNG, one here in B.C. with BC Ferries Spirit Class vessels, and the other a cargo ship from a Seattle area client. We expect to see a lot more activity in the LNG field in the future. It’s something happening increasingly around the world. We plan on being competitive and are prepared to invest, so those conversion jobs come to our Victoria and Vancouver shipyards and drydocks.”

Carter concludes, “Seaspan Shipyards as a group is hitting on all cylinders right now, we’ve got the beautiful new construction in the Vancouver Shipyards, which are now producing. As well, Vancouver Drydock here in North Vancouver is bursting at the seams with work, and at Victoria Shipyards, they continue to knock it out of the park with the work they’re doing for the Royal Canadian Navy and commercial clients.” Mr. Carter reflected how times change, noting that four years ago, shipbuilding was a sunset industry in British Columbia. “The future is quite bright for Seaspan Shipyards, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in such short period. It’s an exciting time.”