Politics

Davie shipyard considered to retrofit temporary naval supply ship

The government of Canada will have "preliminary discussions" with Quebec's Davie shipyard about retrofitting a commercial ship to serve as a temporary naval supply ship, Defence Minister Jason Kenney announces.

Plan would retrofit commercial ship into navy supply ship as stopgap until new one is built by 2021

Defence Minister Jason Kenney says DND is holding discussions with the Davie Shipyard in Quebec about a possible interim supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy. 3:57

The federal government will have "preliminary discussions" with Quebec's Davie shipyard about retrofitting a commercial ship to serve as a temporary naval supply ship, Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced today in Ottawa.

The discussions, starting tomorrow, will determine whether Davie could provide an interim solution "at a cost, time and level of capability acceptable to Canada and the Royal Canadian Navy," Kenney said.

If the government chooses to enter into a contract with Davie to retrofit a ship, it would bridge the gap until a navy support ship is operational, expected in 2021.

The ship would have modest capabilities and wouldn't conduct full military operations in high-threat or combat environments.

The move is necessary because existing supply ships were forced into early retirement, such as HMCS Protecteur, decommissioned last month. Its sister supply ship, HMCS Preserver, currently providing fuel service to the navy's Atlantic fleet, is also slated to be decommissioned on a date to be announced.

The government's decade-long plan to purchase new supply ships is still in the design phase and construction has not yet begun.

Move forward quickly

Kenney said the government has been in "consultations" with a number of industry stakeholders since last year, ultimately choosing to explore the "real potential" in the proposal put forward by Davie. He added it was the view of the cabinet that "this is a gap in our capabilities right now."

Davie shipyard is located in Levis, Que., the riding of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

Naval officers are seen at CFB Esquimalt for HMCS Protecteur's paying-off ceremony in May. The decommissioned ship leaves a gap in the navy's capabilities, the defence minister says. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Unlike other shipyards, Kenney said, Davie is unencumbered "with other huge projects for the Royal Canadian Navy." 

"We, quite frankly, want to move forward with this as quickly as we can and not get bogged down in the kind of competitive process which sometimes has taken years," Kenney said. "We don't have years. We need this capability as soon as we can quickly get it for the navy."

Last month, the navy bade farewell to HMCS Protecteur at a ceremony at CFB Esquimalt in British Columbia. The event marked almost 46 years of military service for the Canadian navy supply ship, including the Cold War, Gulf War and hurricane relief.

Protecteur retired after a devastating engine-room fire in 2014, which left the ship burning, powerless and adrift off Hawaii for 11 hours. It was towed to Pearl Harbor, then towed back to its home port of Esquimalt, B.C.

In the meantime, Kenney said, the navy has found workarounds through flexible scheduling and relying on Canada's allies such as Chile and Spain. 

The government's vaunted $35-billion shipbuilding strategy has faced a number of delays since it was launched in 2010. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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