Shipyard ‘synergy’: Ralmax buying Esquimalt Drydock

The Ralmax Group of Companies bought the 21-year-old Esquimalt Drydock Co. on Thursday, bringing together two Victoria yards dedicated to the ship repair and maintenance busyness.

The agreement is expected to result in knowledge transfer between the yards, provide more job stability, and add more heft to the companies’ ability to bid on contracts.

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“It’s very synergistic,” said Sage Berryman, co-chief executive of Ralmax, the parent company of Point Hope Maritime.

“This investment continues our commitment to growing a sustainable marine sector which is essential to our local, regional and provincial economies.”

Berryman said relationships are the foundation to how Ralmax operates, adding that Joe Sansalone, Esquimalt Drydock founder, built his business “on his reputation for professionalism, quality service and relationships.” Esquimalt Drydock does a lot of work for B.C. Ferries and is carrying out an $8-million, two-year federal contract on two caissons.

Sansalone announced the sale to a group of about 20 workers Thursday afternoon. The company will be a division within Point Hope Maritime. Esquimalt Drydock will keep its name and operations at the federally owned Esquimalt Graving Dock.

Shipyard work forces can vary considerably depending on the size of contracts. Point Hope has about 50 on the job now. But numbers at both yards can move into the hundreds for large jobs.

After the sale news, Ralmax executives approached everyone individually to shake their hands and welcome them to the company.

Esquimalt Drydock works on ships of up to 100,000 gross tons. That’s larger than what Point Hope, at 345 Harbour Rd., handles. Point Hope is waiting for federal approval for its own smaller graving dock.

Ralmax owner Ian Maxwell is hoping permission will be granted by October. If so, construction will start immediately and likely be finished in about two years.

“We need a knowledge transfer from Joe’s company. They’ve already done this [worked at a large graving dock],” Maxwell said.

“We are going to work down here for a few years and possibly forever and get some training and get some people trained up so when our graving dock is open, we are ready to go.”

Maxwell predicts the companies will be able to do a better job of training apprentices because they will have more opportunities to work on different-sized vessels.

Berryman said that because work is project-based, employees will be able to move back and forth between the shipyards, thus giving them more stability in their work.

Sansalone said that Esquimalt Drydock workers will now be earning an additional $8 to $10 per hour. Employees are moving to the International Union of Operating Engineers from the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

The value of the company purchase was not released.

Berryman said the plan is to seek contracts for mid-sized vessels. “That’s where they are strong and that’s where we are strong.”

Maxwell said: “We want to service a customer and have them say, we want to come back.”

Sansalone, 69, will stay with the company initially to help with the transition.

He started Esquimalt Drydock under a plan to sell to Point Hope. But Point Hope failed financially and was bought in 2003 by Maxwell.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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