News

Anatomy of a cruise-ship refit by Victoria Shipyards

Source: Times Colonist
Author: Carla Wilson
Published Date: May 17, 2015

Everyone from crew members to contractors on the Crown Princess cruise ship moves briskly. After all, the deadline is tight.

The 289-metre (947-foot) ship was at the federally owned Esquimalt Graving Dock for a 12-day refit carried out by Victoria Shipyards.

Cruise ships bring lucrative and highly desired work for the yard. This contract is worth about $5 million.

At the Graving Dock in Esquimalt, Joe O’Rourke, Victoria Shipyards vice-president and general manager, said: “We do believe it provides a tremendous economic benefit to this community and to Victoria overall.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins agrees, saying she would like to see a greater awareness of the economic impact of shipyard contracts.

Seaspan-owned Victoria Shipyards relies on commercial as well as multimillion-dollar and years-long military jobs. Between 800 and 900 workers are working at the yard on all projects. More than 300 of those workers were dedicated to the Crown Princess.

The “true DNA of ship repairs” is completing contracts such as the Crown Princess refit, O’Rourke said, during a tour of the cruise ship.

This kind of work requires a quick turnaround on a large, complex vessel. There’s a “huge amount of time pressure” because the ship is on a strict departure schedule.

Cruise-ship work is a skill-set that the yard is planning to maintain as it anticipates bidding on future contracts, hoping for two or three such jobs annually. Two more cruise-ship refits are confirmed for 2016, O’Rourke said.

Victoria Shipyards’ ability to attract cruise-ship business is bolstered by its location. Ogden Point is a stop on the popular Alaska cruise route.

The history of B.C. shipyards has been uneven. The sector battled for survival for decades, and has seen many ownership changes. Some yards were lost. Victoria Shipyards was founded in 1994 after another yard failed.

Shipyard workers can earn about $35 per hour plus benefits, said company officials. The yard has 10 unions and there are 70 apprentices training.

The Crown Princess refit saw two scrubbers installed to reduce sulphur emissions from the ship’s exhaust as global demands grow for more environmentally sensitive operations.

At the yard itself, environmental practices include placing protective sheeting underneath and around links of massive chains being painted on the floor of the graving dock.

In addition to local workers, about 400 of the cruise lines’ own workers carried out specialized work — upgrading everything from software and technical systems to teak floors and upholstery. They fly from ship to ship around the globe.

As well, a shuttle bus ran regularly for the 1,200 crew members who stay on the ship but get a chance to be tourists in Victoria.

Crown Princess Capt. Justin Lawes said passengers often say they would like more time in Victoria.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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