Nova Scotia

Irving Shipbuilding invites international staff to Halifax for its latest ship test

Contractors of Irving Shipbuilding are arriving from outside Nova Scotia to join Irving employees and members of the Department of National Defence for the company's latest round of at-sea testing.
The future HMCS Margaret Brooke floats alongside the Irving Shipbuilding yard, awaiting its first sea trial, starting this week. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Editor's Note: This article contained factual inaccuracies when first published. Those errors were corrected when additional information was provided to CBC News. Click here to read a full statement from Irving Shipbuilding.

Nova Scotians under lockdown face fines for leaving their own communities as the province battles an aggressive third wave of COVID-19 that has shuttered schools and businesses while new case numbers reach unprecedented highs.

But contractors of Irving Shipbuilding are arriving from outside of Nova Scotia to join Irving employees and members of the Department of National Defence for the company's latest round of at-sea testing.

"Restaurants in this province are closed," a source familiar with the sailing told CBC News on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the media.

"How can we have 78-odd people eating in a cafeteria on the ship?" 

CBC News sent a list of questions to Irving Shipbuilding in advance of publishing this story. 

In response, Irving Shipbuilding issued a statement saying that it is following directives from Nova Scotia Health to "safeguard our employees."

"The health and safety of our employees is our highest priority," wrote Mary Keith, vice-president of communications for J.D. Irving Ltd. 

"Along with [Nova Scotia Health], we are also working closely with our joint occupational health and safety committee, which includes members from both our union and salaried workforce and together have undertaken additional protocols."

After the publication of this story, Irving provided some of the details requested by CBC News.

In an e-mail, the company specified that meals will happen in shifts at identified tables in the cafeteria, with six feet of social distancing. Two of the contractors must eat their meals in their individual cabins and meals will be delivered outside their door to avoid interaction with the crew.

Testing the ship's systems

The future HMCS Margaret Brooke is the second Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship off the assembly line in Halifax.

The ship's first sea trial is scheduled to begin Thursday, with 78 passengers aboard. Seventy are from Nova Scotia, according to Irving Shipbuilding. Eight are from outside of Nova Scotia:

  • One from PEI

  • Two from Quebec

  • Two from Newfoundland

  • One from New Brunswick

  • One from Germany

  • One from Scotland. 

A portion of the vessel's passenger manifest for the sailing scheduled for May 6. (Contributed. Names blurred by CBC News for privacy.)

Residents of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island currently don't need to self-isolate upon arrival in Nova Scotia, and Irving says the person from New Brunswick arrived before its border with Nova Scotia was closed.  

According to Irving Shipbuilding, the workers from Quebec got specialized worker exemptions allowing them to come to Nova Scotia, but they must isolate when not working and follow approved safety protocols.  

The worker from Germany will complete a 14-day isolation period before reporting to work, and the worker from Scotland got a federal quarantine exemption and a provincial exemption allowing them to work and will have been in Nova Scotia for at least 14 days before the sea trials begin. 

Four of the 78 people aboard are expected to disembark the ship after the first day at sea.

Representatives from each type of contractor, including propulsion, navigation, communications and weaponry, all gather aboard to see how the systems work together so that any issues can be fixed before the ship is delivered to the military.

CBC News spoke to sources familiar with the sailing plan and obtained a copy of the ship's passenger manifest and a list of the company's COVID-19 precautions. 

A list of precautions for the ship's crew says "physical distancing shall be maintained throughout the sea trial where feasible." 

All personnel will complete a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken. Rapid testing will be available before the ship's departure. Negative COVID-19 tests were required before boarding, Irving said. 

The document also outlines increased sanitation efforts and mandatory masking when moving through communal areas.

All out-of-province workers are expected to follow provincial health guidelines when not in their designated work area. They must take their breaks and eat their meals in their cabins.

Signs or tags will indicate who is exempt from the mandatory 14-day isolation period.

Irving travel exemptions revoked last year

As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia had 1,060 active cases of COVID-19. Of the 153 new cases reported, 139 were in the central zone, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Last July, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health revoked travel exemptions for Irving Shipbuilding after shipyard employees raised concerns about company executives flying between Canada and the U.S. without self-isolating. 

Provincial officials said Tuesday those exemptions remain revoked.

Irving Shipyard, with the future HMCS Margaret Brooke awaiting its sea trial this week. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

But Irving Shipbuilding has applied to have five other staff members enter the province. To be approved, an applicant must show the work being done is urgent, that it relates to critical infrastructure, and that no other person in Atlantic Canada can do the job.

"At this time, two have been approved," said Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson for the provincial government.

"One for an international traveller who is completing their 14-day self-quarantined period before starting work. The second is for a domestic traveller and the appropriate COVID-19 safety protocols are in place." 

Health authority officials confirmed to CBC News that it's the provincial government that approves or denies entry for workers. 

The future HMCS Margaret Brooke is scheduled to return to Halifax on Sunday following its sea trial.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story quoted a source that said workers had arrived from the United States, Ontario and Poland. Irving Shipbuilding says workers are only arriving from Germany, Scotland, Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and P.E.I. and are following all health and safety protocols as required.
    May 05, 2021 5:24 PM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.

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