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B.C. shipyard looks at requirements to build new ferries

Seaspan says it is “actively looking at opportunities to grow our business in B.C.”
The sixth and final Island-class ferry leaves Romania in fall 2021 to sail to Victoria. The vessels are designed to serve the smaller inter-island routes for B.C. Ferries. B.C. FERRIES

B.C.’s largest shipbuilder, North Vancouver-based Seaspan, is examining the requirements to pre-qualify to build four new Island-class vessels for B.C. Ferries.

Seaspan is “actively looking at opportunities to grow our business in B.C.,” Jessica Gares, Seaspan spokeswoman, said in a statement on Thursday.

This week, B.C. Ferries said it was planning to order up to four new hybrid diesel-electric vessels. The competition will be open to shipyards in B.C., nationally and internationally.

The prospect of major shipbuilding contracts can mean tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts. Large construction projects translate into many jobs and paycheques for union workers as well as revenue with companies hired to help with a job.

When Seaspan won the right 11 years ago to bid on federal non-combat vessels, training and facilities were ramped up at B.C. post-secondary schools to prepare a skilled workforce. The work includes constructing scientific vessels and a new polar icebreaker.

Seaspan has “rebuilt a strong B.C.-based shipbuilding capability and capacity including over 450 B.C. companies in our supply chain as a consequence of the investments made to support Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy,” Gares said.

The company employs hundreds of unionized workers at its Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver Drydock and Victoria Shipyards, based at the federally owned Esquimalt Graving Dock.

Whenever B.C. Ferries announces it is planning to add new ferries to its fleet, the question of where they will be built is raised. That’s because the majority of the fleet was built at shipyards in Vancouver and Victoria, where there was a long tradition of shipbuilding. Seaspan invested in modernizing its yard to build the federal non-combat ships. But in recent years, most ferries have been constructed in Germany, Poland and Romania.

The existing six Island-class ferries were constructed by Damen Shipbuilding in Romania. The Island-class project cost $300 million.

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