Nanaimo Shipyards to benefit from federal contract

A lucrative shipbuilding contract for Vancouver's Seaspan Marine announced by the federal government Wednesday could parlay into a strong future for Nanaimo Shipyards.

Nanaimo Shipyard president Ron van Wachem stands in front of a navy dive tender being refitted Thursday. The shipyard could be adding as many as 100 new jobs after the federal government awarded an $8-billion contract to Seaspan Marine.

Nanaimo Shipyard president Ron van Wachem stands in front of a navy dive tender being refitted Thursday. The shipyard could be adding as many as 100 new jobs after the federal government awarded an $8-billion contract to Seaspan Marine.

A lucrative shipbuilding contract for Vancouver’s Seaspan Marine could parlay into a strong future for Nanaimo Shipyards.

Ron van Wachem, president of Nanaimo Shipyard Group, said his company supported Seaspan in its bid for one of two massive federal contracts awarded Wednesday through the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

While Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding won the largest contract — $25 billion to build 21 combat ships — Seaspan was awarded $8 billion to build seven non-combat vessels, including a coast guard ice breaker and Fisheries and Oceans vessels.

“We anticipate that this will bring our shipyard continuous employment for a long time as well as the possibility of adding at least 100 jobs here in Nanaimo and another 100 jobs minimum at our Port Alberni site,” said van Wachem. “It will probably require some infrastructure upgrades and some equipment upgrades and those kinds of things. We’ve been working with Seaspan on seeing this through and we’re very appreciative of what Seaspan has done. They had a very professional team, put in a very professional request for proposal and you can see the result.”

Rona Ambrose, minister of public works and government services, said the contracts combined will generate 75 million hours of work and 15,000 jobs nationwide over the next 30 years.

The Seaspan contract is expected to create more than 4,000 jobs both in the Vancouver shipyard and in secondary industries.

Nanaimo Shipyards currently employs about 80 people, with another 60 employees in Port Alberni.

Parksville-Qualicum Liberal MLA Ron Cantelon said this kind of opportunity is what the province has in mind to help put its jobs plan into place to train and keep workers in British Columbia.

“The most important part about this besides creating high paying jobs and highly skilled jobs is that these jobs will be ongoing for a long time,” said Cantelon. “Young people here can take a trade certificate with the assurance there will be jobs in the future so they can raise their families and put down roots here instead of running to the oil patch and coming back on the weekend.”

Cantelon said the province has created an apprenticeship support program that will provide tax credits to businesses for apprenticeship training.

“The province was to provide $40 million and $20 million from B.C. Ferries based on a $35-billion contract. That will be prorated now to fit the $8 billion contract, but these credits will be available to train young workers and perhaps retrain older workers for an industry that has a very promising future here in B.C.,” said Cantelon.

The process to secure the contract began last July.

Van Wachem said Seaspan has indicated it will be looking to sub-contract work to Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Victoria shipyards to assist it in fulfilling its contract. He anticipates contracts would include building modules and systems in Nanaimo for the new vessels, while helping Seaspan maintain its current fleet.

“There are lots of ways to skin a cat,” said van Wachem. “We’ll have to see over the next few months as to how it will settle.”

Nanaimo Shipyards already completes a lot of coast guard and Canadian navy maintenance work – it is currently refitting a navy dive tender vessel – and many skilled job and professional positions will need to be filled.

“Project managers, planners, estimators, drafts people. All those kinds of trades will be involved for sure,” said van Wachem. “The tough part will be getting the management type people because there aren’t a lot of those around anymore.”

In preparation for the contracts, the industry had the foresight to produce the manager and skills necessary to fill the positions. Through the West Coast Ship Building and Repair Forum and The Pacific Coast Shipbuilding Association, of which van Wachem is chairman, the labour issue is being addressed.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com