Top brass at Seaspan Shipyards insist they are on track to start building federal ships within the next month — despite recent reports that pointed to Ottawa considering giving one important supply ship contract to a Quebec shipyard because of delays in the West Coast shipbuilding program.
Seaspan Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Whitworth said Wednesday the shipyard is “absolutely ready” to begin work on federal vessels.
“The facilities are ready. The people are ready,” he said.
“We look forward to starting construction of the first ship in less than four weeks.”
“I think we’ve always looked forward on being measured on our skill and our quality and our production. That is going to start here very, very soon.”
Whitworth’s comments came after recent Ottawa news reports suggested the federal government is considering giving Quebec’s Davie Shipyards a fill-in contract to quickly build some kind of supply ship that could be used while the government waits for Seaspan to complete the two massive joint supply ships that are part of its non-combat national shipbuilding program.
Work on those ships isn’t expected to get underway until 2017. But the report suggested some politicians are concerned about possible delays at Seaspan — especially given that work on several vessels scheduled to be built before the supply ships hasn’t started yet.
In the years since Seaspan was awarded the right to negotiate approximately $11 billion in federal shipbuilding contracts, there have been numerous announcements at the North Vancouver shipyard.
In February 2013, then-Minister of Public Works Rona Ambrose told workers she expected the government to place its first order by the end of that year. Various points in 2014 were also later suggested as dates for the start of construction.
So far, however, Ottawa and Seaspan have yet to sign a formal contract for construction of the first vessel.
Whitworth said he expects that will happen within the next two weeks, adding it’s not unusual for a first contract to take time.
“We are setting a precedent for all future contracts,” he said.
Whitworth denied that Seaspan has been responsible for any delays in starting the shipbuilding program, adding that suggestion may have its roots in other shipyards hoping to wrangle contracts out of Ottawa.
“There were two winners of the national shipbuilding strategy, Irving for the combat vessels and Seaspan for the non-combat vessels. Other shipyards that were not successful at winning those bids are working very hard … to undermine the (national shipbuilding) program,” he said.
Federal politicians joined workers and Seaspan brass at the shipyard Wednesday to announce that the federal and provincial governments are kicking in $582,000 in Canada Job Grant funding to help train workers at Seaspan. Currently there are 200 tradespeople working at the shipyard. The workforce is expected to grow to between 500 and 600 trades in the next year and to 1,000 in two years.
But that is dependent on getting contracts for federal ships signed and getting the shipbuilding program off the ground.
Tony Matergio, vice-president of Vancouver Shipyards, told politicians gathered on Wednesday, “We are standing in a world-class facility. It’s currently the best facility in North America to build ships.”
Andrew Saxton, Conservative MP for North Vancouver, said he doesn’t expect Seaspan to lose any part of its national shipbuilding contract. “As far as I’m concerned, Seaspan is getting the non-combat contracts,” he said. “Davie (Shipyards) was a bidder. Seaspan won out ahead of Davie fair and square.”
But Saxton also didn’t rule out the possibility of other federal shipbuilding contracts going to other shipyards like Davie, as long as those ships aren’t formally part of the national shipbuilding program.
“The government as a whole does have other contracts which it may put out for tender,” he said.
Nobody in the federal Public Works department was available by press time to say when the contract will be signed for the first federal vessel to be built at Seaspan under the national shipbuilding program.