ns-chicoutimi

HMCS Chicoutimi was badly damaged by fire in 2004. ((CBC))

Canadians won't find out how much it has cost to move a fire-damaged submarine from Halifax to Victoria for refit.

CBC News has been trying to find out the price tag for moving HMCS Chicoutimi since it was transported last April to British Columbia from Nova Scotia via the Panama Canal.

The submarine, badly damaged by fire in 2004, needs two years worth of repairs. The cost will be covered by $1.5 billion given to a Victoria-based company.  

In a 130-page document released by the Department of National Defence under an access to information request by CBC News, every reference to costs was blacked out. The department said it cannot release the numbers because of third party privacy rules.

The documents do give a better picture of the concerns over the transferring of HMCS Chicoutimi to the West Coast.

The documents revealed that the Victoria-based company awarded the submarine refit and maintenance contract for the submarines had not finished its preparation to do the work at the time it was given the contract.  

Approval delayed

According to the documents, the military had been studying the proposal to move the Chicoutimi for a year, but weeks before the scheduled move emails were still being circulated for final approval.  

The military expressed concerns that any delay would be unacceptable and place the government in a vulnerable position with respect to its contractual obligations, the documents say.

On March 5, 2009, one email stated the project still had not been given the OK, and had to be by the next day or costs would rise. The documents noted that would potentially result in significant media interest and further scrutiny of the submarine program.

After the issues were settled, HMCS Chicoutimi was put on a heavy lift ship and sailed through the Panama Canal to its final destination because it could not get there under its own steam.

If there were problems on the West Coast, the military said, there would be significant personnel cost to the submarine community and the submarine program as a whole.  

An email stated the decision on going ahead with the move was down to the deadline. If the deadline was missed, it said, then the sub would have to wait until the fall to be transferred and that would result in significant media interest and further submarine program scrutiny.

Centre of excellence

The documents say the decision to locate the submarine maintenance program on one coast was to enhance efficiencies, streamline maintenance and create a centre of excellence. They state that should offset the cost of the Chicoutimi transfer.

Ken Hanson, a visiting defence fellow at the centre for foreign policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said he understands the decision to put the submarine maintenance program on one coast. But, he said, the decision may not serve the best interests of the country.

"Do we want to be able to operate our entire fleet wherever it is needed? Right now the guiding principle is cost, not effectiveness or efficiency," he said.

CBC News could not find any information to back up a claim by former Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey that it would cost $16 million for the nearly month-long trip from Halifax to Victoria. The company that transferred the sub would only say that it cost millions of dollars.

There were a lot of rumblings when the submarine maintenance contract was given to the West Coast, depriving the Halifax shipyard of hundreds of jobs.

Chicoutimi caught fire in October 2004 as it was sailing to Canada from Scotland for the first time. The fire was blamed on an electrical malfunction after salt water poured down the open hatch of the submarine.

Lt. Chris Saunders, a 32-year-old father of two from Halifax, died of smoke inhalation.

HMCS Chicoutimi was one of four submarines Canada bought from the British navy in 1998.

Corrections

  • HMCS Chicoutimi was purchased from the British navy, not leased as originally reported.
    Nov 06, 2009 12:15 PM AT