By R. Bruce Striegler

For an industry that was declared a “sunset industry” in the 1980’s, shipbuilding and ship repair in British Columbia is showing resilience. Victoria’s Point Hope Maritime is again fulfilling its historical role of surviving, and doing so in a resoundingly successful manner. Only on the job as General Manager of Point Hope Maritime for little over a year, Riccardo Regosa, brims with enthusiasm. The Dutch-born Regosa has plenty of reason for the optimism. In June of this year, Point Hope Maritime entered into an agreement with Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands to provide technical and warranty support for two new vessels Damen is building for BC Ferries, scheduled to go into service in 2020. In the same week, Point Hope Maritime signed a second contract with BC Ferries, this one a five-year supply agreement for dry-docking, maintenance, repair or refit requirements for eight of BC Ferries’ minor vessels in a scheduled 20 dockings per year. Regosa says, “This is all very exciting news and at Point Hope Maritime, we are all very pleased. We have the space, the expertise and the schedule to accommodate this work.”

BC Ferries notes in the news release on the deal, that, “The agreement supports BC Ferries’ goal to continue its practice of investing in B.C.-based marine services. We are pleased to solidify an arrangement with Point Hope Maritime as our docking partner for our minor vessels. Point Hope Maritime has strong capabilities in safety, engineering, planning, project management procurement and quality control,” said Mark Wilson, BC Ferries’ Vice President of Engineering. “Access to a local, secure supply of services is crucial for the reliability of our fleet, and therefore essential to the communities we serve.” Over the past ten years, the Ferry Corporation has spent approximately $1 billion at B.C. shipyards on dry-dockings and refits, repairs, mid-life upgrades and life-extension projects.

The company’s esprit de corps was noted when BC Ferries representatives came to the shipyard to sign the agreement. The entire Point Hope team had assembled to welcome the executives and cheer on the signing of the deal. Damen Shipyards will train the Canadian workers on practices and procedures in maintenance and repair of the new ships. Mr. Regosa notes that such a transfer of knowledge from builders to the Victoria team will be essential, and provide new knowledge surrounding vessels with hybrid propulsion systems. He adds that in his view, hybrid systems (diesel /batteries or LNG / batteries) and straight LNG powered ships is the direction the industry will be taking as shipbuilders find new greener methods to build and power vessels.

Point Hope’s notable history of survival

The shipyard that would become Point Hope Maritime was established in 1873. During the 1900’s, the yard was leased to the Foundation Company, which built 24 steam-powered wooden cargo freighters up to 300 feet in length. Eleven years later, the operation was sold and then sold again in 1938, to Island Tug and Barge Limited and Victoria Tug Company. Seaspan subsequently took ownership, although the company moved to Vancouver in 1985. Thirty of the company’s former employees opted to stay behind and bought Point Hope, with each investing $5,000 into the venture. Three decades of economic difficulty followed, but the employees-turned-entrepreneurs kept Point Hope operating into the mid-1990s. However, by 1996 the business owed $1.4 million to creditors, and went into bankruptcy protection. Two years later a group of four local men bought Point Hope out of bankruptcy. A few good years followed, which included work on the new BC Ferries fleet of three aluminum catamarans, the PacifiCats. But Point Hope was soon struggling again and by 2003 was bankrupt a second time.

Later in 2003, Ian Maxwell of Ralmax Group of Companies brought Point Hope out of bankruptcy, investing more than $20 million to modernize the site, which included remediation and replacement of old docks, a new marine railway system and spurlines as well as building a site wide water recovery and treatment system. (Up until 2003, the shipyard drained directly into Victoria Harbour) As part of the improvements, the company also employed a dedicated environmental engineer. Point Hope now holds an ISO 14001 certification and captures and treats all water that falls on the site, whether rainwater or water from ship repair work. In 2006, Point Hope reopened, with three spurlines able to drydock vessels up to 180 feet in length. By 2011, the yard was working at capacity, employing 100 workers. In 2014 Ralmax bought the harbour-front land on which Point Hope Maritime is located from the B.C. Government. Investing another three million dollars, the phase two expansion added another rail spurline. By 2016, the shipyard was working at capacity with 200 workers and was able to handle up to six vessels in the yard as well as afloat.

Today, Point Hope Maritime’s facilities include a 1,200-tonne marine railway that allows the simultaneous repair of up to six dry-docked vessels, as well as deep-water berthing for vessels undergoing repairs that don’t require coming out of the water. Point Hope’s facilities include a 15,000 square foot climate controlled assembly shed for specialized steel and aluminum fabrication, plus access to fully equipped metal fabrication and machine shop in United Engineering Ltd, also a Ralmax Group Company.

The Ralmax Group of Companies is a diversified, yet integrated group of eleven local industrial businesses that include industrial contracting, recycling, engineering, steel fabrication and machining, property management, ready-mix concrete, landscaping as well as industrial excavating. The Ralmax Group is also a partner in Salish Sea Industrial Services Ltd. with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Owner Ian Maxwell, who was born in Victoria, has been an active champion working with local organizations to clean-up Victoria Harbour for the last 20 years.

Preparing plans for a new graving dock

The other item that Mr. Regosa is focussed on is the company’s plan to construct a new $50 million graving dock. Regosa explains that in 2015, Ralmax began to explore market conditions and the possibility that the shipyard would benefit from the addition of the facility which would be able to service vessels up to 560 feet in length. Essentially, a graving dock is an excavated drydock and the term is believed to have originated from the meaning of “grave”. Regosa says that research indicates that long-term demand does exist from Westcoast markets that include California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. With the experience Point Hope Maritime has with servicing BC Ferries and Department of National Defence vessels managed by SNC Lavalin under its fleet maintenance contract, as well as Canadian Coast Guard vessels, private barges, tugs and fishing vessels, the decision to proceed was made.

The proposed new graving dock will measure 174 metres long, 35 metres wide and dock vessels with a draft up to six metres. The facility will have a 50,000 tonne displacement and include a mid-section gate to allow work on two shorter ships. The new drydock will occupy approximately four acres on the site, with about two acres of water used for mooring and access. It is expected the addition of the new graving dock would result in 200 additional jobs at the shipyard. Funding is secured, and now the company is embarking on the approval process, working through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and others. Regosa expects work can begin on the new graving dock in 2018.