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The Coast Guard will get nine new ships that allow it to stay on patrol longer under a $194-million contract announced yesterday.

The vessels, the first new patrol ships the Coast Guard has received since 1991, will be built at the Irving yard in Halifax. Delivery of the first is scheduled for 2011, with the remainder coming over the two years after that.

"We're upping our game, we're giving the Coast Guard ... greater capability," said Regional Minister Peter MacKay.

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"This equipment is important to enable them to do the important job we ask of them."

Five of the ships are earmarked for Department of Fisheries and Oceans conservation and protection programs in the Maritimes, Quebec and Pacific regions. The remaining vessels will be used for security in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway system, a joint operation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

"It gives us a capacity for a vessel to go out for two weeks without coming back to shore," said Nancy Hurlburt, Coast Guard assistant commissioner for the Maritimes region.

"They're going to actually be able to go for a longer period of time, with dedicated vessels that are working on their programs, and have more of a presence on the water."

Each of the 43-metre ships will support a crew of eight, along with up to six Mounties or DFO officials. They are to have a top speed of about 46 kilometres per hour, with a range of 2,000 nautical miles, approximately 3,700 kilometres.

Assistant commissioner Hurlburt said eight of the ships will replace existing vessels, meaning the fleet will grow by one ship. They also plan to recondition three older ships, but have not decided which ones.

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea called the coming ships "a new model" for the Canadian Coast Guard. "With greater speed, broader range and the ability to operate in difficult environmental conditions, these ships will be more effective and efficient," she said.

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She added that "planning" would begin in the new year on a number of major ships, including a long-promised Arctic patrol vessel.

Plans for increased Coast Guard capability were included in previous federal budgets, but yesterday's announcement laid out for the first time the number of ships, their design, the cost and the shipyard that will build them.

The announcement was made at the Irving Shipbuilding yard in Halifax. Workers in orange hardhats formed a backdrop as speakers addressed VIPs sheltered from the brilliant sun under a large tent.

Jim Irving, president of the firm, said that the contract would mean new hiring at the yard within the next year.

"Bring 'em back from Alberta, we're open for business," he said exuberantly.

Karl Risser, president of CAW local 1, was equally upbeat. He noted that, as with many of his colleagues, he was descended from people who had worked at the yard.

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"There is a future for the next generation of shipbuilders," he said.

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