Dredging cabotage issues in Quebec

The 1180 gt MV Port Mechins dredge (pictured right), operated by Dragage Verrault of Quebec, dredging the St Lawrence under contract to the federal government for the last 30 years, has had its seaworthiness questioned by Transport Canada (TC). According to a recent article appearing on the Seafarer's International Union (SIU) Canadian newsletter, TC refusal to extend the Seaworthiness certificate to the aging vessel, built in 1949 (yes, 1949), has led to a protest being filed by the SIU.

The government has chosen to award the dredging contract for a portion of the St Lawrence river in Quebec, to a competing firm, McNally Construction, who, apparently, intends to import and use the Danish registered suction hopper dredge, MV Freja R, built in 1982 (pictured bottom). Rightly so, the SIU is questioning the fact that a Danish register vessel, with foreign crew who pay no Canadian taxes, should be operating in Canadian waters, much less working a government funded project.

Dragage Verrault, in cooperation with Group Ocean subsidiary Dragage Saint Maurice, have proposed to use a smaller suction hopper dredge, the MV Atchafalaya (pictured right), instead of the Port Mechins. Atchafalaya is a Chigago based, US flagged, 850 ton suction hopper dredge built in 1980 currently laid up in Nova Scotia. I am not sure of what the crewing arrangements would be, but unless Canadians crew and officers are fully operating the dredge, wouldn't that be just the same condition that they are criticizing.

Regardless of the situation, I take note of a few items of interest in this story.

1 - Glad to see that TC is growing some balls and cracking down on old junk.

2 - Dredging is / has been a ongoing issue in Canada for quite some time. Although it is not my area of expertise, I suspect, like many other maritime sector in Canada, the dredging file at government level is woefully in need of a vision and direction, not to mention funding. With so many rivers in the country, and them being vital to shipping, dredging must be considered important to the national infrastructure.

3 - Especially in the marine business; if you are not continually upgrading, or planning to upgrade your equipment or expertise during the life cycle (realizing that everything has a limited useful lifespan), especially when you have a long term contract, then you should not be surprise if your offerings don't live up to the contractor's changing expectations and needs. During the course of my career, I have observed one constant factor at all levels of shipboard operations; if you are feeling comfortable and don't think you need to improve a situation, you are headed for obsolescence. Read - Canadian companies, modernize your equipment and your skills !

I am sure the local experts in this situation would highlight many other lessons from this story. Judging by the state of the equipment operating in Canadian waters and the bigger maritime industry situation in Canada, we are bound to see allot more of these stories.

You may be aware of another that I have mentioned in the past, the Neptune science project off the coast of BC, engaging non Canadian seafarers and equipment, but working on federally funded programs. I am sure cabotage infringement is even worst in non publicly funded projects, offshore oil, alternative energy and such, which, as a Canadian, seafaring professionals or not, is quite disheartening. It highlights our failing capabilities to feed ourselves - and if you cant feed yourself...

You can read the brief story from the SIU here. The pictures are from various internet sources.

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