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Seaspan to add 10 more Coast Guard vessels in B.C.

The federal government announced Monday that the Vancouver Shipyard is set to build up to 10 additional large non-combat ships for the Canadian Coast Guard.


The federal government has announced up to 10 more non-combat vessels will be built in British Columbia, raising Seaspan's total order to 17 while giving the province's once-beleaguered shipbuilding industry another multibillion-dollar boost.

Federal Public Works Minister Diane Finley made the announcement Monday in North Vancouver, B.C. The minister said the 10 Coast Guard vessels slated to cost $3.3-billion are in addition to the $35-billion shipbuilding procurement strategy unveiled in 2011.

"With the addition of the non-combat package of the ships that we're announcing today, the total estimated value of projects under the national shipbuilding procurement strategy is now $38.3-billion.

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This also means additional years of work for Seaspan and for its employees. That, ladies and gentlemen, represents a lot of good, stable jobs for Canadians, particularly here in B.C.," Ms. Finley said to applause from gathered workers.

The minister said the procurement strategy means the boom-and-bust cycles that have long plagued Canadian shipbuilding are "already becoming a thing of the past."

Seaspan was tabbed two years ago with constructing seven non-combat vessels for $8-billion. The company broke ground on a $200-million upgrade of its facilities last October. The upgrade is expected to be complete in about one more year.

Brian Carter, president of Seaspan Shipyards, wrote in a statement that Monday's announcement marked another milestone in the "rebirth of the shipbuilding industry in British Columbia."

Percy Darbyson, business manager with Marine & Shipbuilders Local 506, agreed. "We're grateful and looking forward to the start of this project," he said in an interview. "Shipbuilding was dying on the West Coast. This whole project has just sparked new life into it. Long-term, it looks really good."

Premier Christy Clark, in a tweet, said she was "very glad" to hear of the additional ships. She said building 10 more vessels will mean "great jobs" for B.C.

Ms. Finley said the $3.3-billion will allow the Coast Guard to acquire up to five multitask vessels, as well as five offshore patrol vessels. Both types of ships are capable of search and rescue and environmental response, and can remain at sea for several weeks.

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The minister said the government has committed the money to build up to 10 ships, but must first go through the design process. When asked if the new ships would replace or complement existing vessels, she said it would be a combination of things.

Ms. Clark, in a TV interview last week, said the federal government is not prepared for an oil spill off the B.C. coast. Ms. Finley said the federal government will work to make sure the vessels meet all the identified needs, and Ottawa always collaborates with provinces to protect the environment and Canadians.

The national procurement strategy is in its fourth phase, in which designs are being finalized and infrastructure upgrades completed. Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding received a $25-billion contract in 2011 to construct 21 combat vessels.

Ms. Finley said the shipbuilding industry is expected to generate $2-billion a year in economic benefits for Canada and thousands of jobs.

Seaspan was flooded with resumes after it was awarded its contract in 2011. Mr. Darbyson said there's still a large pile of applications to go through and he doesn't foresee any problems finding employees.

Walter Gerlach, with the International Association of Machinists Lodge 692, said Monday's announcement was a great one. However, he said the key will be bringing the vessels in on time and on budget. "The machine's going to have to hit on every cylinder every time and hope we don't run into any problems," he said in an interview.

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