Nova Scotia

Irving Shipbuilding one step closer to completing 3rd Arctic patrol ship

Over the next two days the centre and stern mega-blocks of the future HMCS Max Bernays, Canada’s third Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, will be transported outside of the assembly hall.

Centre and stern of the future HMCS Max Bernays will be taken out of assembly hall

The centre block of the future HMCS Max Bernays will be moved out of the Irving Shipyard assembly hall today. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

It's been a massive shipbuilding project that has kept the Irving Shipyard in Halifax very busy for the last five years.

Over the next two days the centre and stern mega-blocks of the future HMCS Max Bernays, Canada's third Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) for the Royal Canadian Navy, will be transported outside of the assembly hall.

"It was good to be able to pull off a significant amount of work and to pull it all off in the middle of a pandemic with everyone working together," said Irving Shipbuilding president Kevin McCoy. "This third ship really represents a transition for us."

McCoy said the workers at the site have learned to make adjustments from the first two builds. Some of those adjustments made for reduced costs.

Using heavy-lift transporters, the middle block of the ship will be moved today while the stern of the vessel will be moved Saturday. The two pieces will then be aligned and welded together outside the assembly hall. 

The final block, the bow, is currently under construction and will be moved outside later this year to prepare for the ships final assembly.

"In November we are planning to launch the third ship and deliver it to the navy in 2022," said McCoy.

Kevin McCoy is the president of Irving Shipbuilding. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The first blocks of the fourth AOPS vessel, the future HMCS William Hall, are now being assembled and painted, the official keel laying will be coming soon. McCoy said the first steel on the fifth AOPS vessel is also not far away.

As the Royal Canadian Navy takes possession of the new armed warships under the federal government's multibillion-dollar shipbuilding plan, there have been issues that have slowed down the project.

The ship builds started two years later than originally scheduled. Six Arctic patrol ships will be built as well as two more for the Canadian Coast Guard in the next few years.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper first announced plans to build up to eight armed Arctic patrol vessels in July 2007. Irving was selected in October 2011 to produce them, before building replacements for the navy's frigates and destroyers.

But the following years saw several cost overruns and delays in the program.

Work on the fourth Arctic and offshore patrol vessel has already begun. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

After work started in 2015 on the first ship, HMCS Harry DeWolf, Irving said it would only be able to build five ships with the $3.1 billion budgeted for the project. The government ended up increasing the budget to $4.1 billion for six ships.

That money does not include the two ships for the coast guard, which are expected to cost about $400 million each.

Technical problems were also blamed for pushing the delivery date back several times. Then Irving closed its Halifax shipyard in March for several months because of COVID-19.

"March 19th of last year was a pretty tough day when we had to send the trades workforce home," said McCoy, who said work inside the assembly hall was halted until July. "We staggered shifts so we had less density of people coming and going, we put up outdoor tents for breaks and lunch, and we all figured it out together through this difficult period."

HMCS Harry deWolf heads from the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard on its way to being delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy dockyard in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

More countries are starting to increase their interest — and military footprints — in the Far North. Russia, the United States, China and some European countries have been increasing their maritime capabilities in the region in recent years as part of a slow military buildup.

The second AOPS vessel, the future HMCS Margaret Brooke, is undergoing final testing before being turned over to the navy.

The newest AOPS vessel is named after Max Bernays, who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War. He was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his actions aboard HMCS Assiniboine on Aug. 6, 1942.