Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good News / Bad News

Last week's announcement that the provincial government would loan the Halifax Shipyard $20 million was good news, especially in light of recent events.
The Halifax yard will get the money in increments over a period of time - so in fact it may be a revolving loan of about $5 million, and renewable. The actual cost to Nova Scotia taxpayers will be minimal. However it will allow the yard to modernize. This is critical if it is to remain competitive both nationally and internationally. Money will go to new cranes (hooray - some of the present ones must be 50 years old) wharves and docks. Work is certainly needed on pier 6. I saw a test boring scow working off pier 6 last week, so perhaps they will also do some dredging there as well- it is quite shallow.
Finding money is tough in today's financial climate and the province stepped in when needed.
The recent event referred to above was the March 1 layoff of 1,590 workers at the Davie Quebec yard in Levis. This comes as the yard seeks creditor protection in order to reorganize. The yard claims that building the 5 offshore vessels it has on its books is more complex than they had expected, and that they need a major infusion of capital. As Tim Colton reports this is the 7th time the yard has been in deep financial trouble. [See Maritime Memos in "My Faves"]
It also sounds too familiar. The Port Weller yard and Canadian Shipbuilding & Engineering got into similar trouble in 2004 and in fact was liquidated. Since the sale of the yard it has little work and is certainly in no position to build new ships.
Davie expects that their current status is temporary and they hope to hire back the workers soon. One can remain hopeful, but it is not a sure thing.
With $40 billion of ship orders expected from the Canadian government alone in the next few years, a healthy Canadian shipbuilding industry will be essential, or we can expect many of those ships to built abroad.
It is certainly Halifax Shipyard's intention to be competitive for that work, and it will mean jobs for Canadians if they can stay in the game.
But what of ship building in eastern Canada? Halifax seems to be the only serious player at this point. Marystown in Newfoundland and Bull Arm have some ambitions, but they are not at this time major shipbuilders. Port Weller is out of the game and so it is only Davie Quebec and Halifax with any real potential to build major ships. Verreault in Quebec has ambitions, but at this point are only occasional builders. They exist on repair work.
Halifax is certainly limited in physical size, so could not be expected to build large ships. As part of Irving Shipbuilding they can call on East Isle in Georgetown, PEI to assist with components, but that yard is set up to build small vessels, such as tugs.
Halifax can't really expand very much physically, but they can still be a player in the small/medium ship range.
That leaves only Davie in the big ships range, but they need to be on much better financial footing if they expect to see any Canadian government work coming their way. Their present situation could very well have been brought on by new management's desire to clean up the mess and get on with shipbuilding. Let's hope that is succesful, because Canada needs a strong shipbuilding capability.

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