Victoria Shipyards ‘work surge’ means jobs, fat payroll

Multiple high-value public and private sector contracts at Victoria Shipyards means the operation’s payroll for this and the next two years will exceed $210 million in total, says its general manager.

“We are hitting a work surge,” Joe O’Rourke, vice-president and general manager, said Monday.

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“It’s a good time to be in ship repair.”

The yard is at its busiest since 2012.

A hive of about 800 workers are on the job at Victoria Shipyards, a co-tenant of the publicly owned Esquimalt Graving Dock.

Numbers will top 1,000 several times this year, O’Rourke said.

Contracts totalling hundreds of millions of dollars, payrolls, hiring of local suppliers and businesses, plus spending by visiting workers will deliver a major economic impact to the capital region.

Victoria Shipyards’ own payroll will surpass $70 million this year and again in 2019 and 2020, O’Rourke said. That does not include the many private contractors who are brought in to perform a range of tasks at the yard.

Each cruise ship coming in for a refit carries its own employees and crew members, who are responsible for what’s called the “hotel” side of upgrading, such as improving cabins. For example, the Norwegian Sun brought in about 1,500 people — individuals who ride taxis into the city to see the sights and shop.

The 848-foot-long cruise ship will be here for 16 days, from April 3 to April 18, longer than the usual 10-day refit because of the scope of work.

It is in the graving dock, where it towers above the yard. More than 400 shipyard workers are busy seven days a week, working a minimum of 10-hour shifts.

From that contract alone, “there’s about a $3-million injection of wages over those 16 days being put into the economy and generated by Victoria Shipyards, which is a massive amount of money,” O’Rourke said.

The Norwegian Sun has been in the headlines recently because passengers on a trip through the Panama Canal complained that loud, messy, and smelly construction work ruined their voyage and affected their health. Norwegian Cruise Line has offered a full fare credit for affected passengers for another cruise within five years.

In Esquimalt, Victoria Shipyards is focused on getting the refit completed on time.

“We have over 100,000 square feet of paint removal and replacement,” O’Rourke said.

Four robots are shooting 40,000 pounds per square inch of water pressure onto the hull to remove paint. The water run-off is collected.

Both of the ship’s huge shafts have been removed for inspection and rudders and bow thrusters are being checked over as well. A transformer is being replaced, requiring a hole to be cut into the side of the ship. The ships’ laundry room is being renovated.

Coming up, the New Zealand frigate Te Kaha will be pulling into the yard on April 26. This is the first of two New Zealand frigates crossing the Pacific Ocean to have combat systems replaced under a contract with Lockheed Martin Canada. Victoria Shipyards workers are already on board the Te Kaha, which is at the nearby naval base, doing planning and preparation work.

Canada’s submarine maintenance program provides jobs for another 300 workers, O’Rourke said. Work is being carried out on HMCS Corner Brook and HMCS Victoria. HMCS Chicoutimi will be in the graving dock as well this year, with work led by federal fleet maintenance facility employees, with support from Victoria Shipyards, O’Rourke said.

HMCS Winnipeg, one of Canada’s Halifax-class frigates, heads into drydock on May 3.

Starting last year with HMCS Calgary, the five Pacific coast frigates will see four generators per ship replaced by January 2019.

At Ogden Point, 180 workers are on Canada’s new offshore fisheries science vessel, the Sir John Franklin.

That vessel moves to Victoria Shipyards in mid-May, O’Rourke said. Testing of systems and trials will be completed and delivered to the Canadian Coast Guard before the end of 2019.

A Princess cruise ship is coming in for a refit this fall, one of 10 cruise ships scheduled for service between now and in the next few years.

Other major work includes the Midnight Sun’s booking for December through February. The roll-on, roll-off cargo ship, owned by Tote Maritime Alaska, runs between Washington state and Alaska.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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