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Maritime strategy aims to boost B.C.'s shipbuilding sector

$25M fund aims to help companies grow into international markets and stay competitive bidding on Canadian ships, from Coast Guard vessels to ferries

B.C. is looking to super-size its maritime sector, with a new strategy aimed at charting a course for future growth in shipbuilding and related industries.

The B.C. Maritime Industries Strategy, announced recently by the province, is focused on creating a modern and competitive marine sector, said Brenda Bailey, minister of jobs, economic development and innovation.

“Sometimes people think of the maritime industry as very traditional,” said Bailey.

But Bailey said she recently toured Seaspan’s Holoship facility,and was impressed by how it incorporates cutting-edge virtual reality into the shipbuilding process.

“Technology is a key component, and becoming more important,” she said.

Under the strategy, the province will kick in up to $25 million towards grants aimed at helping companies modernize and become competitive in international markets.

The money could help local shipbuilders and their suppliers gear up to do everything from building additional Coast Guard ships to taking on construction contracts from BC Ferries in future.

Under the strategy, B.C. companies can apply for capital grants of up to $500,000 for smaller projects and up to $5 million for larger projects to increase regional capacity for shipbuilding, refit, repair and maintenance. The money will also support projects that increase the capacity of B.C. companies to get involved in building smaller coastal craft.

Dave Hargreaves, senior vice-president of business development at Seaspan, one of the largest players in the maritime industry, described the announcement as good news for the whole shipbuilding industry.

As part of Ottawa’s national shipbuilding strategy, Seaspan in North Vancouver is currently building two massive joint support ships for the Canadian Navy, plus an offshore science vessel for the Canadian Coast Guard, and has a supply chain of more than 500 maritime companies.

Hargreaves said he hopes the strategy will help the shipyard source more B.C.-based technology, products and services in its shipbuilding.

A new West Coast maritime office is also intended to help co-ordinate efforts between industry players, increasing the chances B.C. will win more shipbuilding and repair contracts from Ottawa and other large maritime industry companies.

On Thursday, May 25, Ottawa announced it plans to spend $2.5 billion to build up to 61 small vessels, barges and work boats with modern equipment to replace aging Coast Guard vessels.

Hargreaves said the provincial strategy could also help local shipyards get back in the running when it comes to bidding on future contracts to build BC Ferries vessels, for instance.

“We think there’s real opportunity there,” he said.

BC Ferries is emphasizing greener fuel technologies in future ships, Hargreaves noted, which is also one of the goals of the maritime industry strategy.

According to the province, the marine economy in B.C. contributes $7.6 billion to the province’s GDP, and 43,000 jobs.

B.C. has the largest marine economy in Canada – more than double the size of the next two largest marine economies, in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

B.C. is also home to Canada’s largest port – the third largest in North America – and the world’s third-largest ferry operator.

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