North Van shipyard begins modernization

Seaspan to invest $200M in Vancouver Shipyards upgrade

SEASPAN Marine Corp. kicked off $200 million worth of construction work Friday, one year to the day the B.C. shipyard won the right to build $8billion worth of non-combat ships for the federal government.

Company staff and federal and provincial officials were at Seaspan's North Vancouver shipyard for the groundbreaking ceremony to launch the upgrading program required to carry out the federal work.

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Work will start later, at a date still to be set, at Seaspan's Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt, where upgrading will include construction of a multi-purpose building to be used for commissioning and trials of new federal ships.

Facilities improvement was part of Seaspan's bid to win the noncombat portion of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. Irving Shipbuilding, of Nova Scotia, won the $25-billion combat package.

Seaspan expects shipbuilding to begin in the third or fourth quarter of 2013. Three offshore fisheries science vessels, one offshore oceanographic science vessel, one Polar icebreaker, and two joint support ships are planned.

The vast majority of the $200 million going to facilities upgrading will be spent in this province, said Jonathan Whitworth, Seaspan chief executive officer.

"The beginning of construction at our shipyard marks the rebirth of a once thriving shipbuilding business on the B.C. coast," he said.

"Not only are we building a world-class shipyard in North Vancouver, we're looking forward to revitalizing the ship construction business and to training and growing our workforce by an additional 1,000 employees over the next three years."

About 60 large contracts will be tendered, he said. Most will be in the range of $5 million and $10 million, with one more than $20 million.

Key additions will be four new fabrication buildings, a shipbuilding gantry crane, and a load-out pier. Three buildings will be relocated, existing infrastructure will be upgraded, and about $20 million will be spent on new equipment and tools, Whitworth said.

More than 1,000 tonnes of steel and more than 10,000 cubic metres of concrete will be used, he said.

Additional foundations and support for the yard will be installed, with the total length of all pilings to reach eight kilometres, Whitworth said.

At the peak of construction there will be about 150 workers on site, he said.

Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, said in a statement, "This major investment in these assets will definitely help to make Vancouver Shipyards a world-class shipbuilding centre of excellence".

When Seaspan was picked last year for the non-combat ships, Victoria and Vancouver workers used to weathering a roller-coaster industry broke out in cheers. The overall direct, indirect and induced impact of the shipbuilding venture is predicted to create 4,000 jobs.

Seaspan currently has about 2,400 employees who work at its shipyards, its marine and ferries divisions and in its office.

Whitworth looked back to the announcement on Oct. 19, 2011, saying, "It dawned on me that evening that the shipyard and the shipbuilding industry and our little world was going to change and never, ever be the same. And that the next year was going to go by in a flash with the amount of work that we were going to have to do in preparation. . . .

"I was spot on," he said. "The year has gone in a flash and what we have accomplished is exactly what we wanted to do in the first 12 months. It has been a tremendous amount of work and effort by the team."

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