TOP brass at North Vancouver's Seaspan Marine Corp. say they are still confident they'll be cutting steel for new Canadian Coast Guard vessels beginning next summer, despite recent concerns that have been raised about defence department budget cuts.
"We've had no indication it would have any impact on us," said John Shaw, vice-president of government relations and business development. "We expect to design, build and deliver the noncombat ships on budget and on schedule."
Seaspan managers were in Ottawa this week meeting with a high-level governance committee to give an update on how the shipyard is progressing with work towards the building of several large coast guard and non-combat vessels.
The first of those is expected to be a 55-metre fisheries research vessel.
"We are working with the federal government right now to get under contract for design work on the first project," said Shaw.
That contract, covering the detailed design work on three ships, is expected to be signed this summer. A further shipbuilding contract for those vessels is expected to be signed next year.
In October, Seaspan was chosen as the shipyard the federal government will contract with to build at least seven new ships, including coast guard ships, icebreakers and scientific research vessels. According to another federal announcement earlier this year, more coast guard ships will also likely be built. The value of the non-combat vessels has been put at approximately $8 billion.
The national shipbuilding procurement program is designed to give more stability to the shipbuilding industry, and provide a steady flow of work over the next 20 to 30 years to two shipyards: Irving in Halifax and Seaspan on the West Coast.
But some concerns have been raised that recent defence department budget cuts could see the shipbuilding strategy delayed or reduced - especially since no actual contracts to build ships have been signed yet.
The local shipbuilding industry has experienced that scenario in the past when plans to build the Polar 8 icebreaker were announced in the 1980s by the Conservative government of the day and awarded to North Vancouver's Versatile Pacific Shipyards - and then were abruptly cancelled just before construction was to begin.
But Shaw said Seaspan isn't worried the latest program could suffer a similar fate.
"We continue to have very good discussions with the government, both at the senior level and at the project level," he said. "We're very confident that things are moving ahead well."
Shaw said Seaspan has already signed an "umbrella agreement" with the federal government in February that addresses Ottawa's intention to sign shipbuilding contracts.
"It gives you the intent that ships will be built," he said. "There are no guarantees," he acknowledged, but added, "We are confident things will be moving ahead as planned."
Shipyard staff are currently reviewing recommendations made by a team of four engineers from the Korean shipyard giant STX Offshore and Shipbuilding Company Ltd., contracted by Seaspan earlier this year to recommend the most efficient way to redesign Vancouver Shipyards. STX is one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world, currently producing about 60 vessels a year.
Seaspan is expecting to invest about $150 million in the shipyard in advance of cutting the first steel for federal non-combat ships.
Before that happens, the company will do production design work for the first three vessels, which includes "identifying every nut and bolt and the shape of every piece of steel we need to cut," said Shaw.
"It's very busy right now," he said. "It's an exciting time."