Federal Joint Support Ship takes shape at Seaspan Shipyard in Vancouver
Pandemic-related supply chain issues have pushed delivery dates for both Navy ships back two years, but progress on the first joint support ship is unmistakable. from the Port of Vancouver.
Perched in an elevator above the massive bulbous bow of the future Joint Support Ship, a welder working on the hull is dwarfed by the size of the ship taking shape at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver.
You have to look up – very high – to get an idea of the work underway on what will eventually become one of the largest ships ever built in Western Canada.
With 75% of its massive “blocks” structurally complete, the First Joint Support Ship is visually impressive when raised to its maximum height.
At the beginning of June, one of the major 105-ton blocks, which will serve as the ship’s control center at sea, was put in place. Last week, the huge aft section was also joined to the center section of the ship. When completed, the ship will be 174 meters long.
The manufacturing concept of building massive ships out of blocks, which then fit together, feels a bit like a large-scale Lego project, said Ali Hounsell, director of communications at Seaspan.
Seaspan erected the ship’s first superstructure block in mid-April.
The next big job will be setting up the electrical system that serves as the nerve center of the ship, Hounsell said, with up to 300 electricians working on the vessel.
The massive Joint Support Ship taking shape on the North Vancouver waterfront is the most visible sign of Seaspan’s work on the federal government’s National Shipbuilding Program, which has been underway for more than a decade.
Joint Support Ships are critical to the federal shipbuilding program
For the past two years of the pandemic, some of this work has taken place out of the public eye. But these days, the huge ship under construction is unmistakable from Burrard Inlet.
The two joint support vessels being built at Seaspan – with a total project budget of $4.1 billion – and a polar icebreaker announced last May, which will be built later at the shipyard – are the pieces mistresses of Seaspan’s multi-billion dollar deal to build Coast Guard and Navy Support Vessels for Ottawa, which are expected to keep the workforce busy for another 10 to 15 years.
Seaspan cut steel four years ago on the first blocks of the first Joint Support Vessel, while the shipyard was still finishing construction of the second and third of the Coast Guard’s three smallest fishing vessels.
The shipyard marked a keel-laying ceremony for the first Joint Support Vessel in January 2020. Soon after, the shipyard found itself adjusting to continued production under COVID-19, which involved both careful planning of how many people could be in certain areas at one time and dealing with supply chain issues.
Expected delivery date delayed by two years
At the end of June, the government announced that the planned delivery date for the two joint support ships had been pushed back by two years – the latest of several such schedule revisions. The first ship is now expected to be delivered in 2025, while the second ship will not be completed until 2027.
Pandemic-related supply chain issues and the fact that the joint supply ship is the first of its class have both contributed to the delays, Hounsell said.
“If you’re a car manufacturer and you’re building the first prototype of your car, it’s going to take you a bit longer. There may be design changes along the way from the customer. So there were a number of factors that contributed to that,” she said.
Hounsell said Seaspan has learned lessons from early builds of the first Joint Support Vessel, which will help increase production efficiency for the second vessel. The steel for the second Joint Support Ship was cut in May this year – the large gray panels can be seen in a number of the steel cutting and welding shops at the first shipyards.
Work is also underway on an offshore science vessel
At the same time, work is also underway on a larger offshore science vessel for the Coast Guard. More than 1,100 tons of steel have been cut for this ship and more than half of the large blocks that will be assembled to complete the ship are already under construction in the shipyard. Last fall, one of these large blocks served as the backdrop for a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the federal contract award.
In April, the ship’s three main diesel generators were delivered to the shipyard.
At approximately 88 meters in length, the offshore science vessel will be approximately 30% larger than the first three fishing vessels built at Seaspan.
When completed, this vessel will be capable of performing multiple tasks, including oceanographic, geological and hydrographic surveying missions, and will feature a high-end floating research laboratory.
Beyond the huge bulbous bow of the Joint Support Vessel in the yard today are neat rows of red-colored steel pieces that will eventually become part of the offshore science vessel, arranged so that the search for these parts are easy for workers. Maximizing efficiency is one of the key issues that is a constant learning process at the shipyard, Hounsell said.
“We work with shop floor people locally to say, ‘What would make your job easier? What would make your work faster, better? There have been a lot of improvements, if only the layout of the yard, the way things are organized. That may not seem like a big deal, Hounsell said, but once the shipyard is in production on more ships, like the 16 medium-sized Coast Guard vessels that are also part of the federal deal, it may make a big difference.
Shipyard one of the largest employers
There are currently approximately 1,700 employees at Vancouver Shipyards, including approximately 1,000 workers in the yard and approximately 700 others working in ship design, engineering and project management, making it one of the largest North Shore employers.
Like other businesses, Seaspan has faced fierce competition for skilled trades. Hounsell said the shipyard has a strong apprenticeship program, which has supported more than 80 apprentices in 2021 and has seen 11 of those apprentices graduate with Red Seal certification.
The shipyard also works to reduce barriers for underrepresented groups, like Indigenous students, and works with BCIT, Camosun College, and programs like ACCESS Trades to help attract and retain skilled tradespeople. .
Seaspan also has an on-site training center, where recertifications can be done directly at the shipyard.