Looks like it’s time to post again, but I’m wondering exactly what to say. I’ve been taking some time away from the internet and social media, and media in general. Reason? I believe they have been responsible for helping to plant seeds of anxiety and unease in the general populace. It seems that world politics and events have become the meat and potatoes of all things worthy of journalistic scrutiny. A truly frightening thought if one considers the possibility of a series of loudmouth and ignorant entertainment washouts following one another in succession. The conspiracy theorist in the dark dim corner of my mind wonders in horror what is actually going on out of the view of the cameras. Thankfully (mercifully?) the optimist in me wastes no time pushing that thought away and replacing it with some other more uplifting musings. But now, once again I am struggling with the one topic that never seems to let me rest without outrage.
Climate Change? Cryptocurrency? World War 3? Armageddon? Nay I say! The thorn in my paw that never rests is the state of Shipbuilding in this country!
Many many moons ago as only my closest readers will remember I wrote a short article discussing the state of Canadian Shipbuilding, which was published in The Downhomer Magazine. I bemoaned much of what I saw as a taxpaying citizen trying to make a living as a homegrown Shipbuilder, in hopes that things might change, or at the very least I might purchase some peace of mind having vented my feelings. Alas, I’m sorry to say that my relief did not materialize. For a while things were looking up, as Canada raced along at a snail’s pace in the development of a Shipbuilding Strategy but it has become obvious that we’ve still a long ways to go.
I’ve been giving this topic more thought as of late and have started jotting down more of my thoughts. This posting is a comment on the practice of buying designs ‘off the shelf’ rather than using our own skills and resources. A future extension to this posting will discuss the sorry state of the ferry services in my own province of Newfoundland and Labrador (which I am at the moment, too infuriated to think about very clearly).
Please read and comment if you feel like becoming a part of the discussion!
Canadian Shipbuilding – An Investment in the Future.
Shipbuilding in Canada is trying to come back, having been badly weakened by decades of neglect and ignorance. At one time this country led the world in terms of our merchant marine, but that was a long time ago. It was at the end of the second world war and Canada’s sailors roamed the seven seas bringing trade and commerce to all parts of the globe. With one of the world’s longest coastlines stretching across the North Atlantic, the Eastern Pacific and the frozen vastness of the Arctic ocean, Canada could once boast of a proud self-sufficient seafaring tradition. We still have the coastline but the abundance of Canadian designed and built vessels has been decimated and a generation of tradespeople have missed out on years of valuable experience. Our sailors ply the waters under foreign registries. I believe it is time to rethink a lot of the philosophy of the last several decades and to work on strategies that get Canadian Design Houses, secondary suppliers, tradespeople, educational institutions and businesses in general back to a philosophy of ‘doing it ourselves’.
There are any number of reasons that might account for the decline in our performance as a nation of shipbuilders, amongst them the volatility of global economics, fuel costs, labour issues, political wills, and competition from other nations. The list continues but that is not the focus of this article. I am only touching on the surface of the many issues and challenges that affect this industry. However it is worth noting that the general premise of this article could without much trouble, be applied to any industry.
I speak as one who has been working in the Shipbuilding Industry in Canada and can give a firsthand account of what I’ve witnessed over nearly four decades. When I came into the business Canada was building the Frigate ‘City Class’ ships. These were, until recently our last Federal investment in the navy. Thankfully, following a long period of woefully under supported actions on the part of many, our government has finally seen fit to rebuild our country’s capacity to patrol our waters. The result of this new found government attention is the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy and it has certainly been a long time coming. Time will tell just how many ships will actually be delivered through this program (I’m guessing it will be less than originally stated). Although the NSPS indicates vessels for the Coast Guard are imminent as well as the navy the actual plans are less forthcoming.
Let’s consider the case of commercial transport vessels (and to a lesser degree the navy and coast guard). The ferries that carry the passengers and goods throughout the country. It has been the wisdom of the day since the latter part of the last century that it is better to buy an ‘off the shelf’ design from an established shipyard in another part of the world than it is to design and build our own here in Canada. While the cost saving might appear to be a little more visible initially, and the logic may seem to be sound, history is showing us that this is not the case in many instances. It is true that it’s possible to get a good product in this manner but in order to ensure this, some important conditions must be met.
I have spent a significant portion of my career working on various vessels and vessel designs that have been purchased from ‘overseas’, ex-soviet block countries, Europe, asia, and so on. While it’s kept my colleagues and I quite busy fixing and redesigning poor and inadequate workmanship this is less than desirable, it’s not the way to build ships. Speaking personally I would much rather be working on ships that we design and build here in Canada. It’s not too late for this.
Admittedly many of our shipyards have fallen into ruin, or gone out of business, or struggle along surviving on repair work and small jobs. Our workforce of experienced tradespeople has diminished considerably, but regardless we do have the means to take this challenge on in Canada. There are several institutions in the country that teach Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, there are many small independent design houses that employ highly skilled professionals that at present find most of their work outside of Canada and there are many designers that work freelance both in North America and globally. The obvious question that arises is “How is it that the skilled designers and tradespeople cannot find work at home and yet are finding work abroad”? The answer is simple. The skills are present in Canada in spite of the state that our shipbuilding has fallen to.
We can do it here, so the next time a smiling politician comes to your door, or a surveyor calls your number let them know that designing and building (and outfitting with local and national resources) Canadian Federal and Provincial ships is a better option than the ‘cheaper’ option of buying garbage elsewhere. Personally I’m fed up with my tax money being wasted to support other nation’s industries. If we’re going to waste money, let’s do it here. Who knows, in time we just might see a return on our investment in the future.