Shipyard in Esquimalt abuzz with refit work

Source: Carla Wilson / Times Colonist 
Date: December 5, 2015

The Ruby Princess is in drydock in Esquimalt for a 10-day stop while 350 Victoria Shipyards workers go flat out to complete a vessel refit. Cruise-ship work and other contracts are pushing the size of the workforce to a peak of more than 800, said Joe O’Rourke, general manager of Victoria Shipyards, owned by North Vancouver’s Seaspan ULC.

The value of the cruise ship job alone is in the $4-million to $5-million range, O’Rourke said Friday. It includes installing two massive emission scrubbers and replacing bow thrusters.

Princess has brought in 350 of its own staff, who in their spare time head downtown and spend money.

Standing by his office window over the busy scene, O’Rourke points to the HMCS Regina, the final of five frigates in the yard for a modernization project. The Regina contract is scheduled to be complete this spring.

At the same time, the Esquimalt Graving Dock is going through major changes. Plans to replace the south jetty have cut 1,000 feet of pier space, leaving just 800 feet for Victoria Shipyards and other companies that rent the facility. Utility upgrading work is also underway.

Victoria Shipyards workers are on 10- to 12-hour shifts to get the cruise ship finished on time, creating a “rather intense” atmosphere, O’Rourke said.

No one is complaining.

Just six years ago, the number of workers dropped to seven. Lack of contracts kept most of the 200 core trades workers at home. Shipyards along the coast spent decades fighting for survival and some didn’t make it.

Today’s healthy employment numbers are largely due to Victoria Shipyards winning federal contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The frigate work, at more than $350 million, has not only boosted the number of workers, but has brought in apprentices, sparked training and put it on the map internationally.

Submarine HMCS Corner Brook moved into the yard in June, kicking off a three-year upgrading project.

Victoria Shipyards has also successfully courted the lucrative cruise-ship industry. The Crown Princess was here for a refit in May. Next to arrive for refits will be Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium at the end of April or early May, followed by the Crystal Serenity in May. There is one cruise ship booking for 2017 and Victoria Shipyards is pursuing more.

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