By R. Bruce Striegler

The company has been in existence in Canada since 1983, under various names. “We were STX Marine up until this summer when we were bought by Norway’s VARD Holdings, a unit of Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, says Dave McMillan, President and CEO of VARD’s Canadian operations. “A large part of our business,” says McMillan, “is the off-shore supply vessel market, principally in the U.S. Gulf Coast, hence our Houston, Texas office. We’re probably the leading designer of off-shore vessels being built down there, with about 35 vessels either being constructed or about to be constructed.”

In July 2014, VARD Holdings Limited, a major global designer and shipbuilder, acquired STX Canada Marine Inc., a prominent Canadian marine engineering and design company with more than 30 years of history in North America. Headquartered in Vancouver, with over 60 employees and branch offices in Ottawa and Houston, TX., the organization was expected to combine the best practices of Norwegian and North American marine engineering and design. VARD Marine Inc. is headquartered in Norway with 10,000 employees worldwide. The company also operates ten strategically located shipbuilding facilities, including five in Norway, two in Romania, two in Brazil and one in Vietnam.

Mr. McMillan started his career in the United Kingdom as a naval architect, and has worked in British shipbuilding. “I came to Vancouver after shipbuilding began to decline in the U.K., worked for a number of years at another Vancouver engineering company. “This is a job I enjoy every day.” He explains that in North America, VARD’s core business is around what they call mid to large type complex ships, “Here, we’re purely a design company, we don’t do any construction although we do construction supervision. The Houston office focuses on our U.S. customers and the U.S. shipyards. In fact, one of our customers, Eastern Shipbuilding, is the third largest in the world delivering platform supply vessels over 5,000 tonnes deadweight, and those are all our designs.” In Canada, McMillan says, ship design has been the strongest service the company has deployed.

In both Canadian and international marketplaces, VARD designs prove successful

“We’ve been very successful over the last five years doing work for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Coast Guard. The Arctic Off-shore Patrol Ship, known by its acronym AOPS, is a design we developed as a sub-contract with BMT in Ottawa.” These vessels are part of the package of ships awarded Irving Shipyards in Nova Scotia under the government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). “We then did the off-shore oceanographic science vessel for coast guard, one of the vessels in the NSPS package awarded to Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards, and most recently we completed the design of the flagship of that program, the polar icebreaker.”

McMillan adds that commercial work the company is involved with includes BC Ferries. “We’ve applied our LNG design experience to the current Spirit Class upgrade/LNG conversion.” With respect to LNG conversions, McMillan says the company originally got involved in this emerging sector about four years ago, having to adapt one of the company’s original designs of a platform supply vessel (PSE’s) to be a dual fuel ship, locating the LNG supply tank below deck. “About the same time we worked with a company in Quebec to develop ferries for STQ.” The Société des traversiers du Québec is a provincial crown corporation operating intra-provincial ferry services and McMillan says the first of the vessels are currently under construction at Davie Shipyards.

McMillan explains the details of another VARD design, “About eight years ago, we were approached by a customer from Houston to develop what we called a compact semi-submersible. It is really a multi-hull platform 84 metres by 32, and the idea was to build a solid unit that would have good ship motions, but be smaller than the competition and at the same time having a good deadweight capacity.” He notes this factor was important, saying, “We didn’t compromise the really good sea-keeping qualities but had virtually no deadweight.” The SV260 off-shore service vessel is designed to service installations with a large deck cargo capacity, can handle liquid cargos such as mud, drilling and fresh water or fuel. McMillan notes that VARD did model testing and design development with the customer, resulting in a very successful project.

Off-shore patrol vessels (OPV) have been a successful product for VARD. “We describe these as commercial vessels painted grey, since it’s been proven that this ship fits second-tier navy budgets, it’s not a combat ship, but remains a very capable platform. We’ve had a number of these vessels built around the world.” McMillan says that the latest 90-metre vessel built in the United Kingdom for the Irish Naval Services was delivered this summer, containing a high level of automation and designed for winter Atlantic operations. “We’re world-recognized with this design, and compete successfully against all the big players in Europe.”

McMillan says another project the company takes pride in, is to have been selected as part of one of three groups bidding (from an initial list of eight) on the U.S. Coast Guard’s off-shore patrol cutter program. “That’s the largest project in the U.S. Coast Guard’s history, and is to build up to twenty-two 100 metre and more, off-shore patrol vessels. We are one of three design firms to be funded by the Coast Guard to develop a class package, and to get here, we’ve beaten out a lot of good competitors.” The bid is headed by Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG), of Panama City, Florida. VARD has worked for more than 18 months to produce a unique design tailored to this program’s requirements. Other partners in the bid include Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, Quantic Engineering and Logistics Corporation, as well as MAN. At the end of the preliminary and contract design phase, ESG and the other two bidders will enter a second competitive tender to win the detailed design and construction contract.

VARD reported consolidated revenues of NOK 11.16 billion (Norwegian Krone) for the financial year 2013, in line with the NOK 11.13 billion in 2012. Mr. McMillan notes that perhaps the most valuable and unique assets the company possesses have resulted from its corporate affiliations, and its access the data compiled from hundreds of ships built within the VARD Group.