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Canadian navy supply ship HMCS Preserver sits at berth in Halifax in July 2006. ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

The federal government's plan to purchase at least two new joint support ships to replace the navy's aging supply vessels is "back on track and moving ahead," Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

MacKay, alongside Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Industry Minister Tony Clement, announced the $2.6-billion plan to build the joint support ships, with an option for a third vessel, at a news conference on Wednesday in Halifax.

The announcement comes after the government shelved a similar plan in 2008 to construct three navy supply ships and some coastal patrol boats because of defence contractors' problems with meeting the specifications under the government's budget.

Once built, the new ships will increase the navy's ability to respond to humanitarian disasters such as the Haiti earthquake six months ago, MacKay said.

The two shipyards have yet to be selected, but MacKay said the vessels will be built in Canada and produce high-level jobs from the project and spinoff contracts.

"We're making a new commitment to building our new ships at home," he said. "This is going to be a boom time for shipbuilding throughout Atlantic Canada."

The navy has been struggling to keep its existing 1960s vintage replenishment ships in the water. HMCS Preserver and Protecteur were expected to reach the end of their service life between 2010 and 2012

Since 2006, Ottawa has had plans to build 28 large ships over the next several decades, at a cost of more than $33 billion, as well as more than 100 smaller ships.

But MacKay would not give a definitive delivery date for the ships, saying it takes time to complete the procurement process and construction.

"You can't buy these ships at Canadian Tire," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press