British Columbia

Crash threatens Vancouver shipyard's schedule for new coast guard ships

A Vancouver shipyard is searching for answers after the fisheries science vessel it built for the Canadian Coast Guard — and whose delivery is already years overdue — ran into a breakwater near Victoria.

Seaspan Shipyard's Sir John Franklin was in sea trials when it crashed into Ogden Point breakwater

The Sir John Franklin is a scientific research vessel built under a federal government marquee shipbuilding program. In 2018, up to 44 metres of its hull had to be re-welded after an inspection uncovered a series of defective joints. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The Canadian Coast Guard's hope that its first new fisheries science vessel will finally be delivered this summer could be dashed after the ship crashed on its first test run last week.

Seaspan Shipyards is already two years behind schedule to deliver the CCGS Sir John Franklin, one of three new fisheries science vessels the British Columbia shipbuilder is producing for the federal government.

The Franklin was returning from its first week of sea trials and being piloted by a contractor when it ran into the Ogden Point breakwater near Victoria on Friday, said Seaspan Shipyards vice-president Tim Page.

No one was injured but an initial assessment by Seaspan found the Franklin's propeller and rudder were damaged, said Page. Photographs from the scene also showed a large dent in the hull on the aft port side above the water line.

The shipyard is working to determine the cause of the crash and whether it will further delay delivery of the vessel to the coast guard.

"Because of the damage and our need to look at exactly the extent of the damage to the propeller, the rudder and to hull, sea trials have been suspended and will recommence once repairs have been performed," Page said Monday.

"We don't know what potential impact there may be yet to the vessel's delivery schedule since we have not yet fully assessed the damage."

Any delay could also have a impact on delivery of the other two fishing vessels ships Seaspan is building, as well as an ocean science vessel and a heavy icebreaker for the coast guard and two supply ships for the navy.

Workers in North Vancouver B.C., gather at the unveiling of the Sir John Franklin offshore fisheries science vessel on Dec. 8, 2017. It was designed and built in B.C. by Seaspan as part of a national shipbuilding strategy. (Seaspan)

The vessels are being largely built in order, meaning a delay on one has the potential to affect the rest. That in turns drives up costs and forces the coast guard and navy to continue older ships or stop gaps.

The crash is the latest bit of bad news for the Vancouver shipyard and follows recent optimism that it had finally turned the page on years of cost overruns and delays.

The Franklin was originally supposed to be delivered in early 2017, but that was before officials found that there were problems with the ship's welding and Seaspan was forced to go back and redo some of the work.

With the welding redone — at Seaspan's expense — and sea trials started, shipyard executives told a Senate committee last week that they expected to deliver the Franklin to the coast guard this summer.

"At this point we're still pitching for the June delivery," Page said.

"But we don't know enough yet about how long it will take us to repair the damage to the rudder and the propeller and the aft portion of the hull. And when we do, we'll know its impact on schedule."

Seaspan was selected in October 2011 to build the three fisheries science vessels, which together cost $687 million, as well as the ocean science vessel, polar icebreaker and two naval supply ships.

But it has struggled to deliver any of the vessels. Seaspan chief executive officer Mark Lamarre chalked up the problems to the Senate committee last week as growing pains for both the shipyard and government.

"We have learned from our early challenges and absorbed the accompanying financial losses," Lamarre told the committee at the time.

"We are working with the (federal government) to ensure that, going forward, there is greater project certainty for everyone."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.