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Seaspan Shipyards adds Ontario yards into its bid to build Canada’s polar icebreaker

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Conceptual rendering of CCGS John G. Diefenbaker released by the Canadian Coast Guard

Canada’s Seaspan Shipyards (Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd.) has entered a teaming arrangement with Heddle Shipyards (Heddle Marine Service Inc.) to compete for the contract to build the Canadian Coast Guard’s future polar icebreaker, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker.

Under Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), two Canadian shipyards – Seaspan and Irving’s Halifax Shipyard — were originally selected as strategic partners to build large Canadian Navy and Coast Guard vessels. Under that carve up, Vancouver Shipyards had, in fact, been designated as the builder of the polar icebreaker and, at one time, Canada had hoped the vessel would be in service by 2017.

ENTER DAVIE

Not everything has gone smoothly for the NSS and twice Ottawa has had to turn to Quebec shipbuilder Chantier Davie, which just happens to operate Canada’s largest shipyard, to provide it with much needed ships in a hurry, first by converting a containership to an advanced fleet oiler, then by converting three ice-class AHTS vessels to medium icebreakers.

At the end of last year, it was announced that Davie had qualified to become the third strategic partner under the National Shipbuilding Strategy. That was followed in February this year by the release by Public Services and Procurement Canada of a Request for Information (RFI), open to all Canadian shipyards, seeking information on domestic shipyard capability and capacity to construct and deliver a polar-class icebreaker.

WORK FOR ONTARIO SHIPYARDS

Seaspan says that, if awarded the polar icebreaker, under the new partnership Heddle would fabricate ship modules at its three Ontario shipyards, creating sustained, predictable and long-term work for Heddle in Hamilton, St. Catharines, and Thunder Bay, and that the strategic relationship would also provide NSS program work for Heddle’s facility in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland.

Seaspan says its Vancouver Shipyard was purpose-built for the construction of the polar icebreaker and claims it is the only shipyard in Canada with the workforce, facilities and capacity in place today to deliver the complex Polar icebreaker by the Coast Guard’s critical 2029 deadline.

That claim is disputed by critics of the NSS who see Seaspan’s addition of Heddle to its team as an attempt to inject the creation of Ontario jobs into the politics inevitably surrounding the yard selection process.

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