Victoria Shipyards buzzing with activity

In a perfect world, the dry dock at the Victoria Shipyards would always be full and Joe O’Rourke could run 800 staff per day.

In a perfect world, the dry dock at the Victoria Shipyards would always be full and Joe O’Rourke could run 800 staff per day.

But after 30 years of working in the shipyard industry, O’Rourke knows that’s never going to happen.

O’Rourke, however, is happy with the amount of work that’s come in to the shipyard (owned by North Vancouver’s Seaspan ULC) ever since he arrived from Portland, Oregon 10 months ago to take the reins as general manager. But he’s also actively bidding on a lot more commercial work, specifically aiming at markets in the United States due to the low Canadian dollar.

“I feel confident that Victoria Shipyards are going to continue to grow, albeit on a cycle. Some years are down versus others just because there’s only so much in that market you can grab,” said O’Rourke, noting the first six months of the year are busy, but after that the workload is fairly light.

“We’re trying to fill the gaps as much as possible.”

Compared to previous years, the work at the shipyards has been fairly stable. Six years ago, a lack of contracts dropped the number of workers significantly, but one year it reached as high as 1,200. O’Rourke expects to have 550 to 600 direct people working on vessels in the future.

Much of the stable work is due to the frigate and submarine program with the Royal Canadian Navy, which has provided a consistent source of revenue for the last five years with contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to O’Rourke, the navy work (under prime contractor Lockheed Martin Canada) involves part modernization (with new combat systems) and part life expansion. There is never a day that employees don’t have some job they’re working on that takes at least 100 trades people. The shipyards rarely, if ever, fall below 300 people.

“You want to take a vessel and make enough improvements and bring it up to a standard that’s going to extend its life out,” said O’Rourke, adding there are many changes with sensor and weapon systems. “You have to upgrade to whatever the new equipment that comes in.”

During the peak of the program, 485 workers were employed, but that number now hovers around 350. After 11 months, work on the fifth frigate — the HMCS Regina, will be completed this spring. After that, O’Rourke said the shipyards will continue to do work off and on for the navy thanks to a contract that runs through 2018. The HMCS Corner Brook submarine is also now on the yard and will be brought up to date with the latest systems during the next two years.

“It (work) won’t be as high as it was before, but it’s still going to be very substantial and more substantial than it was prior to the modernization program,” said O’Rourke, noting the shipyard is like a glorified gas station with a repair function.

“It (the shipyard) is not a factory that processes things. To some end your work load is determined by what’s available, by what the customer will give you. You can go and seek more markets, but there are periods where nobody has repair needs so you train your organization that it’s ready to go down to 350 people or max back up to 1,000.”

The large graving dock at the shipyards can hold three small vessels or one large cruise ship — a lucrative industry the company has also managed to tap into.

In December, the Ruby Princess was pulled into the dry dock with a refit contract worth around $5 million that employed about 330 people at its peak. Putting in 10 to 12 hour shifts every day, workers had 10 days to complete the task of installing two giant emission scrubbers and replacing bow thrusters.

Adding to the pressure of an already intense job with tight deadlines, the work was done in some of the worst weather O’Rourke has worked in. Crane services were taken down seven times in 10 days due to safety reasons.

The Ruby Princess was the third cruise ship to have scrubbers installed in the Victoria Shipyards. Two more cruise ships are scheduled for work in April and May, and another two are booked in the fall of 2017. The shipyards also do general commercial work with B.C. Ferries, tow ships, fishing vessels and barges.

The work with the navy’s frigate modernization program has also been noticed overseas. Negotiations have yet to be finalized, but starting in 2017 the New Zealand Navy is slated to upgrade its first of two aging frigates in Victoria. Each frigate is expected to be here for about six months, providing 300 to 400 jobs during that period.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

Starting in June, Government Street will be closed to most vehicles between Humboldt and View streets. A section of Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian-priority walkway in the wake of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria plans 10-hour closures of Government Street come June

City’s business relief plan extended, Government St. from Humboldt to View closed noon to 10 p.m.

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

While Buccaneer Days public events are cancelled again, such as the annual parade, a home and business decorating contest will allow the spirit of the event to live on. (Facebook)
Esquimalt Buccaneer Days COVID-19 cannon fodder again

Annual celebration cancelled a second time, decorating contest full steam ahead

Police are looking for this suspect after a man was stabbed on Pandora Avenue Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Police seek suspect in Victoria stabbing

The stabbing took place in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, just before 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read