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OPINION: Canada can’t refuel its own ships

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent is shown at dock in Halifax harbour in July 2016 before heading to the North Pole for an underwater mapping mission.

 (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent is shown at dock in Halifax harbour in July 2016 before heading to the North Pole for an underwater mapping mission. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS) - The Guardian

National Shipbuilding Strategy hobbling Atlantic and Pacific fleets

BY COLIN KENNY

GUEST OPINION

(Special to The Guardian)

Canada has got some real problems.

2014, Canada lost its last two refueling supply ships, the HMCS Protecteur by fire, and HMCS Preserver as a result of corrosion. Consequently, for the last three years, the Navy has been unable to effectively deploy a task force and its ability to protect our shores has been limited. This loss reduces mission options, curtails the radius of action for the navy’s warships and erodes skills. Without resupply and refueling capabilities, the Navy is unable to do what the government needs it to do. This includes protecting our exports, preventing smuggling, providing humanitarian and disaster relief, enforcing domestic laws, projecting force and supporting our allies. What Canada needs are four supply ships - two on each coast. Having four refuelers provides the necessary buffer for required maintenance, training and unforeseen accidents so that at least one ship is always available on each coast. So how is our government responding to this situation?
Without our own refuelers, the only immediate relief was going cap in hand to other countries and renting. We managed 40 days on the Pacific from Chile in 2015 and 40 days on the Atlantic from Spain in 2016. This has meant that for most of the last three years, the government’s ability to maintain operations offshore has been extremely limited.
Vancouver based Seaspan is waiting for a contract to build two Joint Support Ships (JSS) but there are three issues: timing, costs and compliance.

Timing: On November 7th 2017, Andy Smith, Deputy Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard testified before a parliamentary committee that Seaspan would not finish their first four vessels for the Coast Guard until 2023, and only then will they start on the supply ships. This means the new refuelers will not join the fleet until 2026 and 2028.

Costs: The government has set aside $2.6 billion for the new supply ships but there is no mechanism such as a fixed-price contract to control spending. The Parliamentary Budget Office has indicated it is likely the costs will be as high as $4.13B if the two ships are to be built at Seaspan as planned.

Compliance: On top of all this, Seaspan is using a 26-year-old German design (why so old?) that currently does not meet NATO interoperability standards.


In 2015, the government accepted a proposal from Davie, a Quebec shipyard to provide Canada with a supply ship, the MV Asterix, which meets all of the requirements of the government, the Navy and NATO. The government has opted to lease the ship for five years at a cost of $650 M including operating costs rather than purchase it outright for $659 M. Since the establishment of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, Davie is the first shipyard in Canada to deliver a vessel to the Navy on time and on budget. For a fixed price the government can acquire all four supply ships the Navy needs from Davie for the $2.6 B that is already budgeted, and have one ship on each coast by 2019 and the two additional ships three years later.
The shocking reality is that the Minister of Defence appears content with having either the Atlantic or Pacific fleet crippled for the next 10 years by not having redundant refueling capability at sea on each coast. The government needs to move decisively and build the next three supply ships at a fixed price at the Davie yard and get Seaspan going on the long delayed polar class icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. This will protect the jobs at Seaspan while providing Canada with the capability to effectively resupply its naval fleet for the next 40 years. Furthermore, it will save taxpayers billions of dollars and reduce the risk to Canadians by ensuring the Navy has the supply vessels it needs sooner than later. If the Minister was doing his job, he would bring a plan similar to this to Cabinet before Parliament resumes later this month.
 

- Sen. Colin Kenny is the former chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Colin.kenny@sen.parl.gc.ca

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