Loading articles...

New Zealand warship transferred to Victoria shipyard for upgrades

Last Updated Apr 25, 2018 at 4:00 pm PDT

Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards is welcoming the extended stay of a guest from down under on Thursday when the New Zealand navy frigate Te Kaha is officially transferred for system upgrades.

A news release announcing the handover says this is the first time a foreign warship has been modernized in Canada since the Second World War.

And while that is good news for Canada’s marine industry, it doesn’t mean it will all be smooth sailing for the shipbuilding sector, says Prof. Jeffrey Collins, a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“It’s a significant win for them, but Canadian shipyards historically have not done naval exports,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“Usually, because the Canadian shipbuilding industry has gone through so many boom-and-bust cycles, the cost of building ships here has historically been high, and we never really maintain the type of expertise to attract companies or countries to send their ships here.”

The joint project between Lockheed Martin Canada and Seaspan will enhance surveillance, combat and self-defence systems on the New Zealand navy’s ANZAC-class frigates. It also includes a second ship, the Te Mana, expected at the Victoria shipyard in 2019 and finished a year later.

Collins said the Canadian government’s modernization of its 12 Halifax-class vessels between July 2007 and January 2018 was likely a strong contributor to New Zealand’s decision to use a Canadian shipyard. The Halifax- and ANZAC-class ships entered service at roughly the same time in the 1990s and require similar upgrades, he said.

The Canadian Navy project cost $4.3 billion and Collins said the work done on ships similar to the Te Kaha earned some international recognition.

“Not only that, I think the project has been seen as one of those rare success stories in Canadian procurement. It was largely on time and largely on budget, and it was a very complex project,” said Collins.

Lockheed Martin Canada is responsible for supplying the weapon systems for the ships from New Zealand, while Seaspan is subcontracted to install the system upgrades onto the vessel platforms. The defence contractor was also responsible for the upgrades made to the Canadian warships.

Seaspan is Canada’s contracted company for non-combat shipbuilding under a federal government strategy, which has come under fire in recent years for costs overruns and delayed production. Collins said the effectiveness of the national shipbuilding strategy is the $60 billion question.

“It’s too soon to tell. The national shipbuilding strategy is a multi-decade effort and you’re talking about creating an industry from scratch,” he said, adding the government’s commitment will help determine its success.

“It’s one thing to say we’re going to do a 30-year strategy to revitalize this particular sector, but how many governments will be elected between now and 30 years, and they may have different priorities and may not want to allocate money to it.”

Statistics Canada says the defence, aerospace, and commercial and civil marine industries added nearly $2 billion in GDP and nearly 20,000 full-time jobs to the economy in 2014. Ship repair, maintenance and overhauls alone totalled over $922 million in sales in the same time frame.

The official handover ceremony takes place at the Victoria Shipyards on Thursday.