A partially completed ship emerging from the shipyard.
One of the future HMCS Harry DeWolf’s mega-blocks emerges from the Halifax Shipyard building in this October 2017 photo provided by the Canadian Navy.

The slogan said, “Ships Start Here,” but it didn’t address the “when.”

The first vessel built under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy program at the Halifax Shipyard will be delivered to the Canadian Navy about six to nine months later than expected — sometime next summer.

In response to a question from the Halifax Examiner, Sean Lewis, Communications director for Irving Shipbuilding, wrote:

We are on schedule to launch the first Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), the future HMCS Harry DeWolf, late September 2018.  Harbour acceptance tests and trials have started and will continue, along with further outfitting, over the next several months. The first AOPS is scheduled to be delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy in summer 2019.

In 2007, the federal government allocated a total of $3.5 billion to design and build Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). The Harry DeWolf is the first in the series, tasked to carry out surveillance and protect Canada’s coastal sovereignty in the North. Irving has been contracted to build five vessels with the option of a sixth if the job can be delivered on time and on budget.

A statement about the progress of the AOPS program was issued by Irving Shipbuilding on January 8, 2018, aimed at correcting a Canadian Press report that quoted the shipyard’s president Kevin McCoy discussing some “challenges” with re-starting a shipbuilding industry after a 20-year lapse.

In that statement, Irving was still targeting the end of this year to hand over the first ship to the Navy:

Construction on the first AOPS vessel, HMCS Harry DeWolf, is well underway with 50 of the ship’s 64 components complete or under construction. On August 25 (2016) Irving Shipbuilding was pleased to cut steel on the second AOPS, the future HMCS Margaret Brooke. HMCS Harry DeWolf is scheduled to be delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy in 2018.” [emphasis added]

The Navy’s project description of the AOPS program was last updated in November 2017. It, too, targeted the end of 2018 for delivery of the first vessel.

A call on Tuesday of this week to the media relations line for the Canadian Navy in Halifax indicated the delivery date for the Harry DeWolf is not cast in stone and that a senior officer would call back with more information. Maybe tomorrow. Meanwhile, written requests  to Irving Shipbuilding for an explanation for the reason(s) for the later delivery date next year yielded this scanty response from communications director Sean Lewis:

It was always intended that the first AOPS would have a longer build cycle than the latter ships; this is reflective of a new ship design being built in a new facility with a growing team.

It’s perhaps not surprising, as McCoy suggested, that the first vessel designed and built for the Canadian Navy in a couple of decades would take more than three-and-a-half years to complete and test. The delay may or may not prove significant, considering this is the first phase of a major defence procurement program expected to continue for 25 years. The Arctic vessels are the “starter” ships to hone the skills needed to build the more complex warships awarded to the Halifax yard as part of a massive $26-billion contract in 2011.

Nova Scotia taxpayers assisted through a $260-million loan to modernize the shipyard, all of which could turn out to be a grant or “forgivable” if Irving succeeds in meeting employment targets spread over the decades. So far, Irving Shipbuilding says it has spent more than $2.1 billion on goods and services within Canada and about $1.0 billion in Nova Scotia. Lewis says 1,800 people are currently working at the Halifax Shipyard.

There are signs the work is going more quickly on the second Arctic patrol vessel. “Shortly following the September launch of the first AOPS”, writes Lewis, the Irving spokesperson, “the centre and stern mega-blocks of the second AOPS, the future HMCS Margaret Brooke, will be transported outside to land level for further assembly and outfitting. The future HMCS Margaret Brooke is 60% complete and all 64 units are in construction.”

Work is also underway at the Halifax shipyard on a third AOPS vessel, the Max Bernays, which began with the cutting of steel last December.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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