Nova Scotia

Oldest Canadian Coast Guard ship to return to service after lengthy refit

The oldest ship in the Canadian Coast Guard fleet will return to service next month after spending three of the last four years in refit.

The 57-year old Hudson is expected to stay in service until 2024 and it is due to be replaced

After its latest refit at the Newdock shipyard in St. John's, the 57-year-old CCGS Hudson is ready to sail. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The oldest ship in the Canadian Coast Guard fleet will return to service next month after spending three of the last four years in refit.

The 57-year old CCGS Hudson is days away from completing a vessel-life extension and is now expected to remain in service until its 2024 retirement date.

A replacement oceanographic science vessel is supposed to be delivered to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by the Seaspan shipyard in Vancouver at that time.

Hudson is set to leave the Newdock shipyard in St. John's this week and to resume science missions in the Atlantic Ocean in August or September.

First mission will be for whale project

The first mission will deploy moorings to listen for whales off Nova Scotia. Then it will carry out ocean climate monitoring from southern Nova Scotia to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There will be no restrictions," said Gary Ivany, assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard. "It will be able to meet all of its requirements through the coming years."

The missions will mark the completion of an ill-fated refit program that began in late 2016.

Since then, Hudson was in service only in 2018.

'It's a shame that we missed so much,' says scientist

With the ship unavailable over several seasons, the coast guard scrambled to charter vessels, at a cost of millions of dollars, to carry out at-sea science in the Atlantic.

Even so, missions were scrubbed as refits ran late or suitable charters could not be found, which interrupted studies of how ocean conditions change over time.

The return of Hudson is welcome news to federal scientist Dave Hebert, who heads up the Atlantic Zone Monitoring Program in the Maritimes, which measures ocean conditions.

"Yeah, that'll be nice to do that and get back to it," said Hebert. "I mean, the ship's supposed to be in really good shape.

"It's a shame that we missed so much."

Unexpected problems delayed St. John's refit

Hudson is completing the second phase of its life extension.

The original budget for this project was $10 million, but with extra work the cost has nearly doubled to $19.6 million.

It was in the shipyard twice as long as originally scheduled.

Hudson entered Newdock in February 2019 and was expected out in July 2019.

But lead paint and asbestos were discovered when the ship was opened up. There were also unexpected heating and ventilation problems.

Finding replacement parts took time.

More money, more problems

Newdock is finishing a major maintenance program that began at Heddle Marine in Hamilton several years earlier.

That $4-million project also ran into unexpected problems and delays.

The showstopper was the discovery of a cracked stern tube carrying the ship's propeller, which added weeks to the job.

Faced with ongoing delays in October 2017, the federal government towed Hudson out of Heddle with the refit unfinished because it was feared the ship would be trapped by winter ice.

Despite the problems, that's when federal officials explored the idea of keeping Hudson in service for at least five additional years and as many as 10.

Hudson replacement first promised by 2014

The ship was supposed to be replaced as early as 2014 as part of the national shipbuilding strategy.

The latest update estimates delivery of a new vessel in 2024.

"All the plans are on schedule with the oceanographic science vessel in Seaspan in Vancouver," said Ivany. "Pre-construction work has already started. It's expected that construction work will start this winter and winter 2021 with delivery in 2024."

But timelines have been a sliding target since a new science vessel was promised by the Harper government in 2011.

By 2013, coast guard officials were predicting a replacement would be sailing in 2017. The cost then was estimated at $144 million.

In a 2018 federal government update, the new vessel was expected in service by late 2021 or early 2022 with an estimated budget of $341 million.

That date was pushed back when the oceanographic science vessel lost its place in line to the navy and a new supply ship was built first.