Upgrades for senior citizens of the sea

Since the late 19th century, ship repair company NEWDOCK has, under various names and owners, been a fixture in the harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now privately and locally owned, NEWDOCK repairs and maintains a wide variety of vessels at its 18-acre port facility, including fishing trawlers, barges, factory freezers, provincial ferries, Canadian Coast Guard ships (CCGS) and aquaculture vessels.

The Canadian Coast Guard ship Cape Roger

The company also started to work on a new Public Services and Procurement Canada contract for major upgrade work on 2 of the Canadian Coast Guard's ships: the CCGS Cape Roger and the CCGS Cygnus, both venerable vessels with significant histories of their own.

Cape Roger has been in service since 1977, and Cygnus since 1981. St. John's is their home port.

Most famously, they were involved in the so-called Turbot War in the mid-1990s, when Canada accused European Union factory ships of illegally overfishing Greenland turbot off the Grand Banks.

Officials from the Canadian Fisheries Patrol boarded a Spanish trawler after firing machine guns over its bow. They arrested the crew and forced the Spanish ship into harbour.

The CCGS Cygnus was among the Coast Guard vessels sent to monitor a European fishing fleet on the Grand Banks.

Creating good jobs while maintaining the Coast Guard fleet

NEWDOCK has a unionized workforce of over 200 skilled tradespeople, a number that fluctuates according to the amount and type of work, but even through recent downturns, it has maintained a core of approximately 125.

The Canadian Coast Guard ship Cygnus

"The COVID situation changed things for a short period," said NEWDOCK General Manager Wayne Ash, "and for the past few years, we've seen a reduction in the offshore petroleum industry, which has meant a reduction in the number of vessels servicing the rigs."

"But right now," he added, "we're seeing an increase in work and an increase in our ability to offer gainful employment to more employees. Our employees come from here in the city as well as from outlying areas. Some even come from central Newfoundland, renting rooms, working during the week and going home on weekends."

Extensive work for Cape Roger and Cygnus

The CCGS Cape Roger and the CCGS Cygnus are regular visitors to the NEWDOCK yard for periodic maintenance that usually takes between 6 and 8 weeks.

"The Coast Guard maintains and modernizes its fleet to make sure the ships meet all current health and safety requirements and offshore requirements for their employees," said Wayne.

Current identified work on the CCGS Cape Roger and CCGS Cygnus vessels is expected to take up to 5 months for each vessel and is directed by a written scope of work of 675 pages. It includes the inspection and re-certification of all life-saving equipment, fire detection and suppression systems; certification of potable water tanks; overhaul of electrical, ventilation, mechanical and propulsions systems; and various piping system replacements, including bilge, ballast and water pipes.

"These vessels are often out to sea for extended periods," added Wayne, "so safe and comfortable accommodation for the crew is important."

Included in the planned work scope is renewals, reconfiguration and upgrades to washrooms and showers, replacement of fire doors, window and porthole replacements, as well as TV distribution upgrades. And a fresh coat of paint.

The vessel repair and maintenance business is very much deadline driven because a vessel in dock is a vessel not working. But like car repairs, the scope of necessary work isn't always obvious.

"Delivery timelines is something we pay a lot of attention to," said Wayne, "because we know what kind of impact delays can have if a vessel is out of service. But vessels often come in with an identified scope of work, and you don't always know the full extent until you start opening things for inspection. But we do our 'darndest' to get the work done in a timely manner at a competitive cost."

"We have been looking forward to these vessels coming in," added Wayne. "It's important work for our company and for each and every one of us who works here."

For more information, visit the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

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