Seaspan LNG conversion set for Victoria Shipyards

What is being touted as the largest LNG conversion in North America is to start in mid-December at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards — proof that this kind of work can be done locally, says the head of the Vancouver Island Metal Trades Council.

The maritime industry is increasingly adopting less costly liquefied natural gas as a fuel as more rigorous rules and environmental standards are being rolled out around the globe.

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Seaspan believes that LNG is the “wave of the future,” said Joe O’Rourke, general manager of Victoria Shipyards.

“We plan to participate in that conversion cycle and become a centre of excellence for all that type of work on the West Coast.”

Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Chamber of Shipping B.C., representing vessel owners, operators, and shipping agencies involved in international trade, said Tuesday that companies are anticipating pressure to reduce emissions within the next 10 to 20 years.

“It makes sense to be prepared for that eventuality whenever you are doing a retro-fit or new build,” Lewis-Manning said.

TOTE Maritime Alaska, owned by Saltchuk Resources of Seattle, is sending its two roll-on, roll-off cargo ships to Victoria Shipyards to be converted to a dual-fuel system.

The 839-foot-long ships carry cargo between Anchorage, Alaska, and Tacoma, Washington.

The North Star will be the first TOTE vessel to arrive, staying from Dec. 15 to Feb. 15.

Each vessel will be here for two 60-day periods, providing work for 300 to 400 people, six days a week, said O’Rourke, who is not revealing the value of the contract.

“This will be the first major LNG conversion in North America on a full-sized vessel,” he said.

Michael Noone, president of TOTE Maritime Alaska, said in a statement that the conversion is expected to significantly reduce emissions such as particulates, sulphur oxide, and nitrogen oxide.

The U.S. company has contracted with MAN PrimeServ to design, develop and test a new dual-fuel kit. MAN Diesel and Turbo, the parent of PrimeServ, is one of the premier supplier of large engines for the maritime sector.

Retro-fitted engines will meet all new emission standards and new components will extend the vessels’ working lives, said Thomas Spindler, of MAN PrimeServ.

Victoria Shipyard will carry out the yard production work and docking necessary for this job, which will involve a team including the owner, MAN and other partners, said O’Rourke.

Seaspan has been responsible for the majority of dry-dockings for the two vessels so is familiar with them, he said.

Island Metal Trades Council president Phil Venoit says the conversion contract shows that local yards can do this kind of work for B.C. Ferries, which is sending its conversions offshore.

The Spirit of British Columbia left in September for Poland for a refit that includes converting it to a dual-fuel system with LNG. It returns in the spring.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island is to leave in September 2018 for the same work.

Venoit said the Victoria Shipyards job shows it is not necessary to send B.C. Ferries vessels offshore. “Never have had to.”

Work can be done in partnership with another company providing expertise for the conversion, as was done for the TOTE ships, Venoit said.

B.C. yards have the space and workers have the skills needed to complete jobs with major international companies, he said.

“So why aren’t we doing that work here at home?”

He said the private sector sees the value in the abilities of the B.C. shipbuilding.

“It would be nice to now have that same support out of our provincial government.”

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