Cruise ship retrofit to spike North Van population

If North Vancouver residents notice cruise ships docked on the waterfront this month, it’s not because we’ve suddenly become a new port of call.

Seaspan is alerting the public of a massive cruise ship retrofit expected to make a bit of noise and cause a brief spike in the population of North Vancouver.

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MV Regatta, the 680-passenger flagship of the Oceania Cruises company, will be brought into the drydock at the foot of St. Georges Avenue Friday night. Work on the project is expected to run 24-7 for 16 days.

“It’s the busiest period of the year for us by a long shot,” said Paul Hebson, vice-president and general manager of Vancouver Drydock. “Cruise ships operate on a fixed time frame so it’s ultra-important for us that the ship leaves here on the 21st and is ready to start cruising again a couple days later.”

Outside, the 27,000-tonne ship will have its hull stripped and repainted along with updates to the propulsion system and rudder. Inside, all of the cabins will be gutted.

“New furnishings, new fittings, new carpets, new TV systems, new announcement systems around the ship. All that type of thing,” Hebson said. “Logistically, that’s a lot of work.”

Getting the work done in short order will require just over 2,000 contractors and specialists. To accommodate the temporary population swell, Seaspan has arranged for another cruise ship, the 1,600-passenger Grand Classica, to dock next door to house workers.

With the drydock’s parking lot being taken up by 375 shipping containers full of equipment and supplies essential for the work, the company estimates 100 extra daily commuters parking in nearby public lots, but Hebson said they are asking their regular staff to carpool.

And the company will be employing new robotic high-pressure sprayers on the hull, which should be quieter than traditional ones, Hebson said.

“While there is more work than we’d normally expect and more intensity, we’re working really, really hard to make sure we’re doing that and being good neighbours at the same time,” he said.

And, Hebson added, boom times for the company are also good for the wider community.

“We actually see this project driving about $10 million worth of benefits, indirect and direct, to our employees and to the local community – local suppliers and businesses,” he said. “This is absolutely good news. The cruise market is a growth area for us, potentially. We’re a business that’s thriving in an area that’s historically been a shipyard.”

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