Regional Report: British Columbia


August 1, 2019

BC Ferries recently modernized the Northern Sea Wolf, which provides an important link between Northern Vancouver Island and the Central Coast. Photo courtesy of BC Ferries.

British Columbia's unique market and physical attributes make it a formidable competitor in the marketplace. These include:

Proximity to the world's largest economies in the Asia Pacific and the US Pacific Coast.

Rapidly expanding ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

An industrial marine cluster encompassing over 1,000 companies, many of them world-leading innovation and technology leaders.

"The list goes on," said Alex Rueben, executive director for the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries, which represents a wide swath of the BC marine industry that includes shipyards, ocean and marine technology companies, naval architects, marine lawyers and policy makers.

The world's leading underwater cabled observing networks and sensors – Ocean Networks Canada, is based here, while the presence of the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard Pacific Fleets and Bases brings a plethora of business opportunities from in-service support, ship repair, vessel upgrades and modernization, as well as multinational firms who base themselves on the west coast of Canada to support the RCN fleet, Rueben said.

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Two companies featured in this story – BC Ferries and Seaspan – are among the biggest industry players in the region. Their projects are expected to generate significant maritime business for British Columbia, Rueben said.

BC Ferries

For nearly six decades, BC Ferries has played a significant role in providing safe, efficient travel along the British Columbia west coast throughout the year. As one of the world's largest ferry operators, BC Ferries operates 35 vessels that regularly transport vehicles and passengers to 47 destinations. The 25 routes offered by the company cover over 1,600 kilometers of coastline.

For many people, including the 22.3 million passengers served in the past year, BC Ferries provides a lifeline.

"We are expected to do more than provide marine transportation: we connect communities and customers to the people and places important in their lives," said Mark Collins, President and CEO of BC Ferries. "We have a responsibility as the steward of safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable marine transportation in coastal BC. It is a responsibility we take seriously."

The company, which recently earned its fifth straight Green Marine certification, has set as a goal to improve further its environmental stewardship activities.

Major progress has been made on that goal this past year with the expanded use of liquefied natural gas.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island returned to service last spring after a mid-life upgrade that included a conversion to LNG. This follows the LNG conversion of sister ship, The Spirit of British Columbia, the first passenger vessel in the world to fuel LNG on a totally enclosed deck.

"We estimate fuel switching to reduce CO2 emissions by 12,500 tons each year, as well as significantly reduce operating costs," Collins said. "BC Ferries now has five ships that operate on cleaner natural gas."

Meanwhile, The Baynes Sound Connector, the company's cable-ferry that travels between Buckley Bay and Denman Island, has significantly lowered that route's environmental impact, dropping fuel consumption and associated air emissions by about 50 percent.

This spring, BC Ferries added to its fleet with the newly modernized Northern Sea Wolf, which provides an important link between Northern Vancouver Island and the Central Coast. The direct one-way seasonal service is available five times a week until Oct. 10.

The company has also prioritized terminal projects and upgrades, including work on the Langdale Terminal Development project that is expected to start this summer.

For the coming years, BC Ferries is moving forward on a number of initiatives.

The company will introduce the newest class of ferry to its fleet – the Island Class – early next year. The Island Class ferries, which will serve four routes beginning early next year, are innovative battery hybrid-electric vessels with an ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel source. By 2022, four more Island Class ferries will be added.

"The Island Class ferries are part of our move towards standardizing our ferry fleet," Collins said. "Standardization helps us dramatically improve resiliency in our fleet by allowing us to move vessels around to replace each other during refits, repairs, and unexpected challenges, provide a more consistent travel experience for our customers and reduce logistical, operational, training, and maintenance costs."

BC Ferries is also getting ready to build the next generation of ferries to replace four of its existing vessels, one of the biggest projects the company has ever undertaken.

"There is a lot to consider as we work to keep fares affordable, reduce our environmental impact, plan for flexibility to meet changing demands, and enhance the onboard experience of our customers," Collins said.

Lastly, 2020 marks BC Ferries' 60 years of serving coastal British Columbia.

"BC Ferries has come a long way since its first voyage on June 15, 1960," Collins said. "We are proud of what we have accomplished in the last year, and we are excited about what comes next."


Seaspan Shipyards operates three shipyards that benefit from the multitude of government and commercial marine facilities and industries in British Columbia: Vancouver Drydock and Vancouver Shipyards in North Vancouver, and Victoria Shipyards based at the Esquimalt Graving Dock on southern Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Drydock, which performs regular refit and repair work predominantly for commercial customers, is strategically located adjacent to the Vancouver cruise ship terminal along a major cruise ship route and the Port of Vancouver. This provides convenient access and short transit time for potential customers, according to the company.

Major projects at Vancouver Drydock over the last year have included upgrading the Silver Explorer for Silversea Expeditions (which include installing a stabilizer – or ducktail – to the stern of the vessel) and refitting the multi-mission icebreaker the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Seaspan says the yard is leveraging its modern facilities, skilled workforce and strategic location to expand its role as a service provider in the exploration cruise vessel market.

Known as a center of excellence for ship repair, refit and conversion for government and commercial clients, Victoria Shipyards, Ltd (VSL) is based out of Esquimalt Graving Dock, the biggest solid bottom commercial drydock on the west coast of the Americas. Its proximity to CFB Esquimalt and the Victoria cruise ship terminal benefits this Shipyard.

The company says Victoria Shipyards' core strengths include the width and capability of its workforce, its apprentice programs and its reputation with customers.

Victoria Shipyards (VSL) remains the prime service provider for docking packages on the Halifax Frigate Class vessels based on the west coast, with the opportunity to service these vessels for their entire life cycle. It is also a subcontractor and partner to Babcock Canada on a life cycle contract with the Canadian submarine program.

VSL has grown its market, working with Lockheed Martin on upgrade packages on two New Zealand frigates. It's the first time foreign military vessels have been serviced in Canada since WWII. VSL is partially through a Duel Fuel Upgrade to two ro/ro vessels operated by long-time customer Tote, the first of its kind in North America.

Then there's Vancouver Shipyards, which is engaged in a long-term contract to build Canada's non-combat vessels under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS).

For NSS, Seaspan is constructing three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV), an Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel (OOSV) for the Canadian Coast Guard and two Joint Support Ships for the Royal Canadian Navy.

Seaspan Shipyards in June celebrated the launch of the second OFSV, the Capt. Jacques Cartier. The first OFSV, the Sir John Franklin, is expected to be delivered to the Canadian Coast Guard this summer.

Construction of the early blocks of the Joint Support Ships is underway, while the OOSV program is currently in the design phase.

"As a result of its work on the NSS, Seaspan has issued contracts valued at up to $850 million to 570 Canadian companies, including approximately $380 million to 425 British Columbia based companies," Seaspan said.

And more vessels are in the offing. In late May, the Canadian government announced that the company will also construct 16 multipurpose vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

"Seaspan benefits from the vibrant marine industrial sector in British Columbia and the 425 BC-based suppliers that contribute to our work under the NSS," according to the company.

Port of Vancouver

With the ability to foster trade with over 170 world economies and move $240 billion worth of cargo annually, the Port of Vancouver is considered Canada's largest seaport and among the most diversified in North America.

A trio of Class-I railways (CN, CP and BNSF) serves the port's marine cargo terminals, allowing direct access to strategic North American markets. A well-established network of transload and warehousing facilities also supports the terminals.

To the Far East, the port also has an office based in Shanghai to maintain its presence in Asia markets.

The port's ability to collaborate with supply-chain partners and make ongoing plans and investments in its terminals and transportation infrastructure means "greater supply chain consistency, transparency and predictability," according to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which oversees the federal port lands in and around Vancouver, British Columbia.

One of the port's major triumphs in recent years was securing over $200 million in federal funding for its infrastructure projects.

Last summer, the Canadian government announced $167 million toward three projects, as well as $55.8 million for four other major infrastructure projects, all to help facilitate smoother goods movement and lower traffic congestion.

"Together with our local members of Parliament, municipalities, Indigenous groups, and our industry stakeholders, we look forward to continuing to work on these and future projects that prepare our region and the Port of Vancouver for Canada's expanding trade opportunities," Vancouver Fraser Port Authority president and CEO Robin Silvester said in 2018 when the funds were announced.

Some of the port's major projects include:

• The Deltaport Terminal, Road and Rail Improvement Project, which encompassed a number of recently completed improvements to GCT Deltaport at Roberts Bank in Delta, Canada's largest container terminal. The work adds 600,000 TEUs to the terminal's current footprint and brings its total capacity to 2.4 million TEUs.

• The proposed Centerm Expansion Project and South Shore Access Project, which seeks to increase the on-terminal footprint by about 15 percent and reconfigure the terminal to bolster container handling capacity from 900,000 to 1.5 million TEUs. Off-terminal infrastructure improvements would benefit the entire south shore port area, according to the port authority.

• The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, a proposed three-berth container terminal at Roberts Bank in Delta that would augment the gateway's annual container capacity by 2.4 million TEUs. The project is going through a comprehensive environmental assessment process by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and led by an independent review panel, according to the port authority.

Port of Nanaimo

The Port of Nanaimo is Vancouver Island's biggest commercial port with two terminal facilities – Nanaimo Assembly Wharf terminal and the Duke Point terminal – and a cruise ship facility that was completed in 2011, as well as a pair of private marinas and other facilities.

"Along with the fact that we are connected to major shipping points, we are in a growth/development stage that is moving to diversify handling capacity for a multitude of commodity types," said Jason Michell, vice president of terminal operations at Nanaimo Port Authority. "Given that we are within 30 kilometers of Vancouver (Canada's largest port) with a variety of short sea shipping links, international vessel terminals, and adjacent affordable land opportunities for new business ventures, this creates land- and marine-based links within a constrained market place."

The port, whose terminals handle a variety of cargo such as break bulk, containers, lumber and project cargo, anticipates considerable growth with its partner DP World if major investment in the terminal proceeds over the next couple of years in containers and break bulk, with the exception of project cargo, port officials said.

A couple of large oil and gas projects may also yield new project opportunities for the port in the coming years, officials added.

The port is also exploring the growth of Duke Point to handle container vessels, as well as new covered storage and infrastructure further diversifying the ports capacity, Michell said.

Meanwhile, work is underway on one of the port's major developments, the 60,000-square-foot BC Vehicle Processing Centre, a $19 million project that brought together the port, Western Stevedoring and the Auto Division of SSA Marine to design, construct, pay for and run the terminal.

The terminal will be the place where new European autos will be offloaded initially and prepped before they are delivered to various dealerships throughout Vancouver Island, the lower mainland and eventually western Canada.

Seaspan Shipyard is expected to deliver the first of three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels, the Sir John Franklin, to the Canadian Coast Guard this summer. Photo courtesy of Seaspan.


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