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$200-million plan to upgrade shipyard

Oct 20 2012

Seaspan kicked off a $200million upgrade to its North Vancouver shipyard on Friday, saying that the redevelopment will launch the rebirth of the West Coast shipbuilding industry.

The shipyard infrastructure investment marks the first major expenditure in B.C. related to the federal National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, one year to the day that the B.C. shipyard won the right to negotiate $8 billion worth of non-combat ships for the federal government.

Work will start at a later date on Seaspan's Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt, where upgrading will include construction of a multi-purpose building to be used for commissioning and trials of new ships.

Seaspan will build seven vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy under the contract.

Seaspan president Jonathan Whitworth said the construction project alone will require 150 workers. Seaspan expects the actual shipbuilding project to swell the employment ranks at the North Vancouver site from 200 to 1,200 by 2016, providing stable work over the next decade for shipbuilders on the North Shore and at Esquimalt.

Seaspan expects shipbuilding to begin late next year. Three offshore fisheries science vessels, one offshore oceanographic science vessel, one Polar icebreaker and two joint support ships are planned.

At a groundbreaking ceremony at the shipyard, Whitworth described the contract as "a true game-changer for the shipbuilding industry."

The redeveloped shipyard, he said, "will once again build large complex vessels for the federal government," as well as other future non-government shipbuilding projects. Future B.C. ferries could be built at the shipyard, he said. The federal shipbuilding strategy means B.C. will have the capacity to do it.

"I do believe there is going to be capacity either at Vancouver Shipyards, Victoria Shipyards or one of our competitors that can actually build the future B.C. Ferries vessels," said Whitworth.

Naomi Yamamoto, North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA and B.C. minister of state for small business, said the issue of building more ferries now is hypothetical, but if the industry can prove it is competitive, "we may see B.C. ferries built in British Columbia."

About 60 large contracts will be tendered, Whitworth said. Most will in the range of $5 million and $10 million, with one more than $20 million.

Key additions will be four new fabrication buildings, an 85-metre-tall shipbuilding gantry crane and a load-out pier. Three buildings will be relocated, existing infrastructure will be upgraded and about $20 million will be spent on new equipment and tools, Whitworth said.

More than a million kilograms of steel and more than 10,000 cubic metres of concrete will be used, he said.

Additional foundations and support for the yard will be installed, with the total length of all pilings to reach eight kilometres, Whitworth said.

The $8-billion Seaspan contract is part of a $33-billion, 20-year federal shipbuilding program. The largest contract, for $25 billion, went to Irving Shipbuilding of Nova Scotia.

Rona Ambrose, federal minister of public works and government services, said the federal procurement program was designed to ensure long-term development of the shipbuilding industry in Canada.

"Seaspan's $200-million investment in Vancouver Shipyards to make it a world-class shipbuilding centre of excellence is proof that the shipbuilding industry is back to stay in Canada," Ambrose said.

Whitworth said Seaspan is confident it can find enough skilled workers for the reconstruction job and for the shipbuilding program without looking outside the country. However, he said they are advertising outside of Canada for some of the highly skilled professional jobs.

"When you don't build large, complex vessels in British Columbia for 30 years, a lot of that professional skilled labour has either passed on, retired, or no longer lives here. So for positions like engineers, project managers, naval architects, those jobs are currently unfilled here because we don't have Canadians capable of filling them."

But for the trades, he said, Seaspan is getting feedback from people working in the Alberta oil-sands or other isolated mega-projects who want to come to Vancouver.

"We have heard enough folks from northern Alberta, for example, who are extremely eager to come home."

Percy Darbyson, president of local 506 of the Allied Shipbuilders Union, said the union is also hearing from tradespeople who left the province to work elsewhere.

"I've had a lot of calls from a lot of ex-members who are up in Fort McMurray or up in Kitimat saying they want to come back home again.

"Today is a great day to get the infrastructure started. Now we are looking forward to the build," he said. "Shipbuilding would have been gone without the program. They were going to close down this facility.

The 200 guys who are here would have been gone."

> Halifax-based Irving gives Ottawa a deadline to start building Arctic vessels, B5

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