Canada to spend $15 billion on new ships, but Seaspan disappointed


When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $15.7 billion injection of funds into the country’s National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) in May, it brought a mix of jubilation and disappointment from shipyards across the country.

Under the new spending plan, Irving Shipbuilding, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will build two new Arctic and offshore patrol ships (AOPS) for the Canadian Coast Guard in addition to the yard’s current combat ship orders for the Royal Canadian Navy.

Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is currently building non-combat vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and non-combat support ships for the Royal Canadian Navy, and will build an additional 16 multipurpose vessels under the new package.

While not specifically named, Quebec’s Davie Shipyard, which until now has been excluded from the NSS, was given a nod in Trudeau’s announcement.

“Canada’s two existing shipyards don’t have the capacity to deliver the fleet renewal by themselves,” the prime minister said. “So we’re also starting a competitive process for a third yard to help build ships when they’re needed.”

On June 5, Seaspan launched its second non-combat vessel designed and built under the NSS. The 208-foot CCGS Capt. Jacques Cartier, an offshore fisheries science vessel (OFSV), features four science labs and the latest acoustic survey equipment. CCGS Sir John Franklin, the first of three OFSVs in the series, was launched in December 2017. In August 2018, it was announced that due to a number of welding faults, the ship would be returned to Seaspan for repairs.

Following the May announcement of additional NSS funding, Seaspan released a statement calling the process to select a third Canadian shipyard “an unexpected and disappointing development.”

“Seaspan believes that a third shipyard building large vessels in Canada will return us to the boom-and-bust cycles that defined previous federal shipbuilding programs, and undermines the founding principles of the NSS that identified two shipyards as Canada’s strategic partners and centers of excellence for federal shipbuilding — a large combat vessel shipyard on the East Coast and Seaspan as Canada’s large non-combat vessel shipyard on the West Coast,” the company said.

The mood at Chantier Davie Canada, the owner of Davie Shipyard, was more upbeat.

“We congratulate the government of Canada on the refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and look forward to becoming an active partner and delivering a fleet of ships for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy,” wrote Frederik Boisvert, Davie’s vice president of public affairs, in an email to Professional Mariner. “This will create over 2,000 well-paid jobs in Quebec.”

The situation changed further for Seaspan on June 11 when it was revealed that the federal government would not be building the 492-foot polar icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker at Vancouver Shipyards as previously planned, replacing that contract with the order for the 16 smaller vessels. Seaspan declined to comment on this development.

“The non-combat package is a challenging program of work, compounded by the construction of the large one-off polar icebreaker,” said Jean-Francois Letourneau, spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada. “Therefore, Canada made the decision to substitute the one polar icebreaker with a long run of 16 multipurpose vessels. Given the importance of icebreaking capacity, the government is exploring options to ensure the polar icebreaker is built in the most efficient manner, but no decisions have been taken yet.”

In August 2018, the federal government awarded a $610 million contract to Chantier Davie to convert three ice-class anchor-handling tug supply vessels — acquired from Viking Supply Ships of Sweden — to medium icebreakers to support Canadian Coast Guard operations. In a prepared statement, the government said the converted ships “will supplement the Coast Guard’s existing fleet while they undergo refits and repairs.”

By Professional Mariner Staff