Issue Date: Issue #140 Oct/Nov 2010,
Canada funds 30-year plan to build icebreakers, Arctic supply vessels
by Michel Drouin
In an announcement that promises to keep Canadian shipyards busy for a quarter-century, the national government in June said it plans to spend $33.8 billion to build new icebreakers, supply ships and other vessels.
The national ship procurement strategy is part of a long-term maritime plan that asserts Canada’s sovereignty claims in the Arctic Ocean and Northwest Passage. Ottawa said it will spend CAD $35 billion on new vessels over the next 30 years.
The government announced in 2007 that it intended to build up to eight Polar Class 5 Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships — armed 319-foot, 6,372-ton vessels capable of breaking ice over three-feet thick.
Shipyards are thrilled at the prospect of staying busy for decades.
“We could have significant employment in the industry and supply for 25 to 30 years. It is a very good opportunity,” said Peter Cairns, president of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada.
“There is the whole issue of marine security, northern sovereignty and security on the high seas,” he said. “There is piracy now that we didn’t have 25 years ago. There is a lot of tasking for Navy and Coast Guard, so it all has to do with an aggregate. All these things are factored into the decision, I believe.”
The big prize will be two large projects that will be assigned to two of the shipyards that win the bidding process. One yard will work on combatant vessels (navy icebreakers), and the other non-combatant vessels (new supply ships).
“What they are doing is looking for two shipyards,” Cairns said. “The two will have to qualify in the qualification process. Anyone who thinks they have capability will enter into the competition.”
For the supply-ship construction, Davie Yards Inc. in Quebec may be favored due to its size. The Washington Marine Group, which owns both Vancouver Shipyards and Vancouver Drydock in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and Irving Shipbuilding Inc. in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are expected to be the main contenders for icebreaker construction.
Canada’s bold plan contrasts with the United States, where budget-deficit cutting threatens capital spending even while the nation’s icebreaker fleet is aging.
The U.S. has three polar icebreakers, only two of which are heavy icebreakers, and both are over 30 years old. One of the ships, Polar Star, is undergoing an overhaul to return it to operational readiness. In June, the U.S. Coast Guard said a major engine casualty has sidelined the 33-year-old cutter Polar Sea for the remainder of 2010.