Canadian Coast Guard 'monitoring' parts failures in new vessels
Problems included corrosion, premature wear or mislabelling
The Canadian Coast Guard says it is closely monitoring problems affecting components on all three of its new offshore fisheries science vessels.
Two different components — a propulsion shaft tube and valves controlling seawater intake — have needed repair or replacement on coast guard ships John Franklin, Jacques Cartier and John Cabot.
The "class-wide" problems included corrosion, premature wear or mislabelling.
The failure of a third component — a switch that controls motor speed — caused a fire on board the B.C.-based John Franklin and led to a stop-sail order from independent inspectors working on behalf of Transport Canada Marine Safety. The defective controller, known as a variable frequency drive, was found to be an isolated incident.
The Seaspan Shipyard in Vancouver built the ships at a cost of $788 million as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy. The ships entered service between 2019 and 2021, providing fisheries science and monitoring in the Pacific and Atlantic.
"The construction of an entirely new class of vessels is a complex endeavour, and a certain number of challenges with new ships can be expected until they reach and maintain their normal operational service lives," Lindsey McDonald, a spokesperson for the coast guard, said in a statement.
"The Canadian Coast Guard continues to closely monitor this situation."
In a statement, Seaspan said the ships are a new class of vessel, and are highly complex and capable.
"And we're proud to see these ships performing well overall," said spokesperson Jo-Anne Dyer.
"As any new ship enters full operation, there may be some issues that need to be addressed and we continue to work closely with our customer, ready to provide support and assistance if and as required."
The forward and aft propulsion shaft stern tube bearings allow the propeller to turn smoothly. The part has been repaired on CCGS Franklin and CCGS Cabot, which is the newest of the fleet and based in St. John's.
Halifax-based CCGS Cartier will be pulled out of the water next month for a refit. Its propeller shaft tube bearings will be replaced, according to the tender document. The tender closes next week.
"There are signs of premature bearing wear," said McDonald.
Seawater piping and valve failures required part replacements on all three ships. That work has been completed.
"There was a report with various potential causes identified, including fluid flow rates, dissimilar metals (galvanic corrosion), and mislabelled valves," McDonald said.
The ships have a one-year warranty after delivery.
Only CCGS Cabot was still under warranty when Seaspan repaired its stern tube bearings in January 2022.
CCGS Franklin was in dry dock for other items last fall and had its stern tube bearings repaired as additional work at a cost of $410,978.53.
'Extremely rare and isolated incident'
Although the propulsion variable frequency drives fell under an extended material and workmanship warranty, the failure on CCGS Franklin occurred after that warranty had expired.
The starboard variable frequency drive was repaired during the $2.4-million refit.
"An investigation by [Canadian Coast Guard] confirmed this was an extremely rare and isolated incident,' said McDonald.
"Upon investigation, it was determined that the mechanism of failure was extremely rare and there was no evidence to suggest that the same issue existed on the other two vessels."
When the refit was completed in December, the stop-sail order was lifted by the American Bureau of Shipping, which provides regulatory inspections. The ship returned to service in January.
"Ideally this is the kind of thing that doesn't happen, but it's hard to sometimes know exactly what kind of performance you're going to get out of a piece of equipment or some assembly part until you actually put it into a real operational setting," said Dave Perry, a shipbuilding and ship maintenance analyst and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
'Starting from scratch'
He likened it to a car parts recall and is not surprised these kinds of problems have surfaced.
"We need to keep in mind with our shipbuilding efforts that we've created this industry and created all of the supply chain going into it basically from scratch," he said.
"You've got a situation where a whole bunch of companies have to provide parts and systems that go into making these ships, and we're putting that whole team together. Basically the Franklin was the first time that that was done for Seaspan."