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German marine firm eyes federal shipbuilding deals

Atlas Elektronik opens Canadian office in Saanich

A German company specializing in high-tech marine systems has established a Saanich office to win public and private-sector contracts as Canada embarks on billions of dollars of spending to renew its combat and non-combat fleets.

Rick Gerbrecht is president and chief executive of newly incorporated Atlas Elektronik Canada Ltd. Right now, he's Atlas's only employee at the Vancouver Island Technology Park on Markham Street but that is changing. He's hiring four staff immediately.

Two will work here and two will be in Ottawa.

The pace of expansion will be governed by the amount of work that Atlas can line up in Canada. The company is looking specifically at opportunities at shipyards in North Vancouver, where federal non-combat vessels will be built by Seaspan Marine Corp., and in Halifax, where Irving Shipbuilding will construct combat ships.

Canada's national shipbuilding procurement strategy has a $35-million budget and another $5 billion announced in this year's federal budget is expected to be largely devoted to non-combat vessels.

All this opportunity was the driver for Atlas to set up a Canadian presence, even though ship construction hasn't started.

When Seaspan builds the ships, the construction will start in Vancouver and finishing work and trials will take place at Victoria Shipyards.

Regional benefits are part of the requirements of the procurement strategy, and Gerbrecht is lining up suppliers for potential work.

Contract values "could be as high as $30 million to $40 million," he said. In that case, manufacturing facilities would be established with a trained workforce. It's too soon to say where they would be located and how many workers would be hired.

Atlas Elektronik Group is headquartered in Bremen, Germany and is a joint subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp and EADS.

The company operates internationally and is already working on federal projects in Canada, including providing specific products for the Victoria Class submarines.

Atlas Elektronik Group managing directors Dieter Rottsieper and Volker Paltzo said the company looks forward to "creating new partnerships with the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian authorities and companies."

Gerbrecht, who has spent two years on business development in Canada for the company, said Atlas can supply mine detection and disposal and sonar systems, as well as vessel traffic management security systems. It also produces autonomous underwater vehicles and security systems, Arctic surveillance systems and command and control systems.

Atlas is ready to work with the private sector and is aiming to carry out research and development in Canada, he said.

Dale Gann, president of the University of Victoriaowned Vancouver Island Technology Park, said the arrival of Atlas provides an opportunity to strengthen the local ocean technology sector.