Maintenance and upgrading work on HMCS Chicoutimi could shift from its base at the Esquimalt Graving Dock to another fleet-repair facility, the Department of National Defence said Friday in response to questions from the Times Colonist about the future of the work.
If the submarine work is moved from Esquimalt, it would be a major economic blow to those employed to work on Canada’s Victoria-class submarines and a hit to the local economy. Millions of dollars have been spent on submarine work in the region.
Babcock Canada, a subsidiary of Babcock International Group based in London, England, has the main contract for maintenance of the Victoria-class submarines until next summer.
The Chicoutimi is currently going through “transition docking,” also called deep maintenance, at the federally owned graving dock in Esquimalt. The work includes preventive and corrective maintenance, engineering upgrades, and hull survey and remediation, DND said.
“Submarine maintenance is complex and must be done right,” it said in a statement. “While this can take time, it is also important that we return HMCS Chicoutimi to service as quickly as possible in order to meet important operations and training requirements.”
How best to complete the project in the most efficient manner is still being discussed, DND said. “While options could include some of the work being completed at other Fleet Maintenance Facilities (FMF), discussions are still ongoing and no decisions have yet been made.”
The statement said DND can’t discuss what companies “may or may not be part of the considerations,” adding there is no set timeline yet.
In April 2021, Babcock Canada announced that the government had chosen to exercise two one-year contract extensions to its existing Victoria in-service support contract. The contract was originally awarded in 2008 and the extension takes it to June 2023.
Babcock could not be reached for comment and Seaspan referred questions to Babcock.
Two years ago, Babcock unveiled what it dubbed Team Victoria-class, consisting of private-sector companies and federal agencies that have worked together to support the submarines.
The team is made up of Babcock, Seaspan, which rents space at the federally owned graving dock, and BMT, which has provided systems engineering expertise, project management, submarine configuration and design.
The Chicoutimi is one of four submarines, renamed the Victoria class, purchased from Britain for $750 million in 1998. They were in refit before coming to Canada.
HMCS Chicoutimi had just left Scotland in early March 2004 when a major electrical fire broke out, leaving one officer dead and nine injured.
Since buying the subs, Ottawa has spent billions of dollars on them.
In the spring of last year, the Canadian Press reported that a team was being established to determine what Canada’s needs are in new submarines.
Submarine supporters note that they are key to Canada’s defence interests and can play a role in sovereignty in the Arctic as global warming opens up navigable waters.