HALIFAX - The Canadian Coast Guard will get nine new patrol vessels under a $194-million contract announced Wednesday, years after Ottawa promised to build the ships and beef up the country's aging fleet.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said Irving Shipbuilding Inc. will deliver the first midshore patrol vessel in 2011 after the Halifax-based company beat out rival bidders from across Canada.
Standing on the Halifax waterfront and flanked by hundreds of shipyard workers, Shea said the 43-metre-long ships will be used in national fisheries conservation programs, and security surveillance in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system.
"These ships ... are a new model for the Canadian Coast Guard," she said in front of a backdrop of navy vessels being refitted.
"With greater speed, broader range and the ability to operate in difficult environmental conditions, these ships will be more effective and efficient."
The vessels, which will be delivered by 2013, will replace aging coast guard ships that have been patrolling waterways on an interim basis since the much-delayed program was announced in the 2007 federal budget.
Nancy Hurlburt, the coast guard's assistant commissioner for the Atlantic region, said the new assets will let them go out to sea for weeks at a time without having to come back to shore as they patrol for overfishing and other illegal activities.
But she said the nine falls short of the 12 that were originally pledged by the minister of fisheries when the budget was tabled in 2007. They'll now have to recondition three vessels now in service to make up for the shortfall.
"We're going to do some work on them to make them available so they'll be able to deliver programs," she said. "So, we'll still have 12 vessels - nine new, three reconditioned."
Four of the vessels will be stationed in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region and the rest will be in ports in the Maritimes, Pacific and Quebec regions, though those haven't yet been identified.
Halifax Shipyard estimates the deal will employ 155 people over four years, giving hope to workers who have seen their industry ebb and flow over the last decade.
"It's good. It's going to take me right into retirement, I hope," said Art Howarth, a 48-year-old iron worker.
"This here will definitely keep me in the yard with full-time work, which has been very rare over the last 10 years."