MV Asterix - Wikipedia

Canada’s Big Honking Ship

Trevor Wekel, 30 May 2020.

As a proud Canadian, I am saddened by the state of our Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard. Years of neglect have led to difficult times for our men and women in uniform.

Our navy has access to a single resupply ship, Naval Replenishment Unit (NRU) Asterix. Asterix is 183m long and 25m wide. It was retrofitted after HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver were retired from service in 2014 when the navy just couldn’t keep them floating after 50 years. Yes. 50 years. I was originally disappointed with the retrofit but it has worked. We are a blue water navy again!

Our coast guard flagship, the icebreaker CCGS Louis St-Laurent was built in 1969. At 120m long and 24m wide, she is a decent ship. Unfortunately, the Canadian government just can’t seem to get another one built. How many years of life can we really expect from our ships? The government's recent pitch to the shipyards about building an icebreaker is another kick at the can. Half a century old ships show their age even with lots of love from the Coast Guard.

CAN Coast Guard ship

Doing ‘one off’ builds at Canadian shipyards as is expected for the replacement CCGS John G. Diefenbaker is the least cost-effective way to build ships. Larger runs allow the ship design cost to be spread out over multiple hulls instead of doubling or tripling the cost of a single hull. Canadian shipyards need the work but this seems cost prohibitive for Canada. At $1.3 billion CAD (in 2013) for a single ship, this seems expensive.

As an Albertan, I have been researching oil and gas shipping to try and get our products to market. I came across the Christophe De Margerie Ice Class LNG Carrier. Fifteen have already been built by South Korean shipyards for the Yamal LNG project in northern Russia.

Container ship SCF

This ship is huge. Nearly 300m long and 50m wide with a deadweight of 80,000 tonnes. It can carry nearly 50,000 tonnes of liquified natural gas. Ice-breaking capability is rated up to 2.1m with an open water speed of 19.5 knots. With the South Korean assembly lines going full out, costs per ship are currently under $300 million USD.

By comparison, the future CCGS Diefenbaker was proposed to be 150m in length and 28m wide. Christophe De Margerie is nearly 4 times larger at one-third the cost. Could this be a viable Coast Guard ice-breaker replacement? Not for me to decide but our Auditor General might have something to say.

But how does this relate to the Canadian Navy? Fifteen years ago Chief of Defense staff Rick Hillier called for a big honking ship. Comparing basic ship statistics, Christophe De Margerie is significantly larger than the USS Wasp or USS America. In fact, it is closer to the size of USS Gerald R. Ford. In my opinion this would classify as a big honking ship. And it would be a ship that can sail all three of our coastlines 365 days of the year.

Purchasing 3 ships for the navy and 3 ships for the coast guard and retrofitting them in Canada to meet the needs of both would be years of work for one or more of our shipyards. Even if retrofit design/build costs were $400 million CAD, the total per ship cost would still be under $800 million CAD. Six ships? A little under $5 billion CAD excluding maintenance.

If Canada pursues Arctic LNG shipping, the number of similar hulls could easily be double or triple the 6 slated for the navy and coast guard. Maintaining a fleet of 18 ships would be excellent work for Canadian shipyards. With a little luck, the oil and gas companies will purchase a dozen of them once LNG starts shipping.

Back to the navy and coast guard ships. One possible retrofit, a mid-ship well deck or a ‘wet elevator,’ could support air-cushioned craft. These would be capable of operating on open water, littoral areas, snow and ice. The Canadian Coast Guard currently operates two hovercraft in Quebec and uses them for ice-breaking along with search and rescue and buoy maintenance.

Coast Guard hovercraft

The same supplier, Griffon Hoverwork, also provides military hovercraft to forces in multiple countries including the British Royal Marines and the Swedish Amphibious Battalion.

Hovercraft

Big Honking Ships, massive ice-breakers and hovercraft. These might be awesome enough to get our younger generation to sign up for service and put a big Canadian flag on Arctic sovereignty.

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