Monday, April 26, 2010

Defenton

Its a depressed town, featuring long faces, hit hard and often with many hard blows to its confidence. "Captain industry", crooked authorities, drug dealers and thugs rule the city. Alas, an honest hero, albeit with no superpowers other than integrity, battles the bad guys. This is the premise of the new Canadian movie I saw on my flight home last week, from my last contract aboard. The movie was Woody Harrelson's newest, and it is called "Defendor", now out on DVD.

Why would I make a post about this movie, on a marine related blog ? Well it is because the town it was filmed in, is none other than where my boat's been wintering, Hamilton, Ontario. Based on my first hand experience, the setting of the movie was probably without much debate, since it was pretty appropriate, sadly.

This industrial town has been very hard hit over the last years with this economic downturn. Even the Labbat's brewery is shuttering up, sending 143 to the unemployment lines. Siemens bought out the Westinghouse Electric factory in town, maker of many components on board many Canadian ships, such as switchboards and related components, now, they are pulling up stakes and moving to the US, sending 600 manufacturing jobs out on the street. Even our little tanker remains tied to the wall in Hamilton. Apparently gasoline is plentiful enough in the area, that the company has been forced to lay off the entire crew - yet somehow, the price at the pump is well past $1 a liter and climbing, strange, very strange.

I think the "Captains of Industry" are probably doing just fine - like always - but in Hamilton despite constant media prodding to "restart the party", the people there are reluctant to indulge with so much hurt on their doorstep. That why I felt compelled to mention this movie, and also because the ending, or denouement in the movie, occurs on the docks of the port, where the bad guys take delivery of a container full of bad stuff, drugs, a "few dead prostitutes" and such.

For those keen maritime eyes watching the show, you will notice a well known tug, from a local Hamilton operator, serving as the scene's background. Yet another appropriately placed prop for the movie. Regardless of the "deeper meaning" that I may breathe into this movie, its actually pretty entertaining and worth a watch. Read more about the movie here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A fusillade of words

The question is: If our DND fleet is suffering like this, what is happening to our Government civilian fleet? They do not have the same high profile as the military and can be quietly ignored by the government.

Better pray we do not have a cruise ship accident, we may find out that our Search and Rescue capabilities have sunk years ago.


A fusillade of words
Citizen Special April 21, 2010, By Colin Kenny

The Liberals starved the military of funds for years, but it will take more than talk from the Harper government to keep our ships afloat

Stephen Harper has an effective kick-to-the-groin response that he often uses to neuter critics of Canada's military policies, no matter if their complaints have anything to do with Afghanistan. He simply throws out lines like, "You're not supporting our brave young men and women in the field who have been risking their lives ..."

Blah, blah, blah.

The huge hole in the prime minister's argument is this: it is his government that keeps falling short in providing the equipment those men and women need to defend Canadians. The government loves to make grandiose funding commitments to the military, often regurgitating the commitments months or years later so they seem like they involve new money.

Unfortunately, these commitments keep disappearing in a fog of delay, postponement, cancellation or just plain inertia. Meanwhile, deadlines pass beyond which military analysts know that holes are inevitably going to open up in Canada's defences.

The Liberals starved the Canadian Forces in the 1990s, making little pretense that defence was a priority for them. The Conservatives pretend that defence is a priority, but fusillades of macho words can't disguise the fact that Afghanistan is a façade -- behind our muscular performance there, alarming weaknesses are creeping into Canada's capacity to protect itself.

Take the Canadian navy. It should be expanding. Canada has the longest coastlines in the world, our economy depends on safe passage of our exports, our allies expect our support at sea, and we border on the Pacific where the new powers are showing their naval strength. Navies are proving their worth in countering piracy, and in providing emergency assistance in places such as Haiti.

But the Canadian navy isn't expanding -- it isn't even treading water.

Long-awaited replacements for the Sea King helicopters remain a dream. Since the 1990s, Canadians have been worrying about our young military people taking to the skies in these antique flying machines.

It is true that it was the Liberals who first botched a Sea King replacement deal because Jean Chrétien felt the helicopters the Mulroney government ordered were too expensive.

But in July 2004, the Martin Liberals announced that they would spend $3.2 billion on 28 Sikorsky S-92 helicopters, to be known as Cyclones.

That wasn't a great idea either. The overpriced Cyclones can't seem to make it off the production line. They have not demonstrated a capacity to "run dry" for long enough to land them if the gearbox fails, which it did in the civilian version of the helicopter that killed 17 oil rig workers last year.

The Harper government has compounded this mess by going secret, as usual. It has not imposed prescribed penalties on Sikorsky for late delivery. Instead, it tried to bury an announcement two nights before Christmas that it will pay Sikorsky $117 million for some mysterious design changes. So nobody still knows when the Sea Kings will be honourably laid to rest.

Then there are the joint support ships that first the Liberals and then the Conservatives announced would replace aged refuelling vessels and provide the capacity to support army deployments around the world.

Canada needs four of these ships -- two on each coast. The government ordered three, then backed off when the bids came in too high for its liking. No news since. Expect ghost ships for many years to come. Meanwhile, the Royal Netherlands Navy has signed a contract to develop a similar vessel. The Dutch don't like huge holes in their national defence capacity. We don't seem to mind.

Canada desperately needs replacements for four destroyers, one of which, the Huron, has already rusted out. Without these ships you are pipsqueaks at sea -- without the capability to provide area air defence for frigates and other ships, and never playing a leading role in command-and-control in allied formations. Our three remaining destroyers are supposed to be replaced two years from now. At 40 years old, they're prohibitively expensive to maintain. No word on replacements has come down.

We bought four electric-diesel submarines from the British. Submarines are vital to coastal defence and overall intelligence. One of these boats -- the Chicoutimi -- will probably never serve after the tragic fire that occurred during delivery. The other three are in and out of dry dock and, to the best of anyone's knowledge, have never fired a torpedo. That's quite a weakness for subs. These submarines are in mid-life already, and plans should be in the works to replace them.

Again, no word. Again, one can predict another big hole in Canada's naval defence years after our current political leaders have left the scene.

To add insult to injury, it has been estimated that our navy is 20-per-cent short-staffed, and a lot of the shortages are in skilled trades.

And what about the Arctic coastal patrol vessels the government pronounced it was going to use to protect our northern waters as well as ply our southern coastlines? No sign of those, although that's actually a relief. For a start, their usefulness in the North would be nothing more than symbolic -- they are simply not going to fire on vessels from Russia, the U.S., or anywhere else. Secondly, their design is ridiculous -- they could be outrun by fishing boats or even freighters.

Then there is the Cormorant search-and-rescue aircraft with the defective tail rotor. It has been recognized as being defective for several years now, but that doesn't seem to get it fixed.

The week after Gen. Walt Natynczyk was named Chief of the Defence staff, he defined his biggest challenge as procuring big-ticket items for the navy, whose needs have been shunted aside with the focus on Afghanistan. "I've got to deliver," said Gen. Natynczyk. "I've got to lay keel for the navy."

This year is the Canadian navy's 100th birthday. It should be a proud year for an institution that is vital to the security of Canadians.

Happy birthday, Walt. Sorry, your government could only afford a card.

Senator Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate committee on national security and defence. E-mail: kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stimulus Warning For Contractors

This article was directed to construction, but there are many marine contracts in place that will also be affected by the cutoff.

Be sure to read the fine print
Contractors are warned that stimulus rules could put them at financial risk. By HEATHER SCOFFIELD The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Warning: Federal stimulus money should be approached warily.

The Canadian Construction Association has posted a ""cautionary note" to contractors across the country, saying they may be on the hook for infrastructure projects uncompleted by the federally imposed deadline of March 31, 2011.

The warning comes as new data from the Parliamentary Budget Officer show a huge amount of stimulus work is set to come on stream over the next few months — raising questions about whether a lot of work will be left unfinished and unfunded when the federal money stops flowing.

Ottawa has told municipalities that all federal funding will stop cold on March 31, 2011, for projects under the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund and the Knowledge Infrastructure Program.

So some cities — scrambling to put billions of dollars to work before time runs out — are trying to get contractors to agree to pay for any construction that isn’t finished by the deadline, the association warns in the note posted on its website last month.

The warning advises contractors not to sign anything unless they find out first whether the project is subject to the March 2011 deadline, whether the project has any hope of being completed by the deadline, and if not, who will pay after the deadline.

"A contract might say, ‘We’re looking to you to take on extra costs’," said association president Michael Atkinson. "We’re saying, at least ask the questions."

Contractors aware of the clauses might agree to take the risk, he said, but only at a steep, additional cost.

New data crunched by watchdogs at the Parliamentary Budget Office suggest the risk is far from small. The PBO proves what many have concluded from anecdotal evidence; that after a year of slow buildup, the federal government’s marquee Infrastructure Stimulus Fund will roar into action in May and peak this summer.

At that point, the office says governments will be spending more than $700 million a month on stimulus projects — almost a full year after the recession was deemed to have ended.

Spending is expected to taper off as the March deadline approaches. But then, if the federal government sticks to its word, it will abruptly plummet from $350 million a month to nothing.

The PBO report, based on data from Infrastructure Canada, looks at applications for the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund up until the cut-off date of January 29, 2010. It also examines progress reports up until December 31, 2009.

Under examination is about $10 billion in federal, provincial and municipal money — a huge chunk of the government’s two-year plan to beat back the recession.

Atkinson is skeptical all the projects will be finished in time and he says municipalities are too. That’s why some cities are quietly including clauses passing the risk on to contractors.

"The following may be assessed against the contractor if the project is not substantially completed by March 31st, 2011: two-thirds of the actual remaining construction costs incurred after March 31, 2011, in order to complete the project," says clause 17 of a contract tendered recently in Windsor, Ont.

Such clauses are only normal for cities trying to take good care of their finances, says Berry Vrbanovic, second vice-president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and a city councillor in Kitchener, Ont.

"Municipalities are simply doing what’s responsible to protect their taxpayers . . . from the possibility of companies taking on more work than they can handle," he said.

Contractors’s costs may well rise to reflect the added risk, he said, but so far he’s seen no sign of that.

The PBO report also found the average size of Infrastructure Stimulus Fund projects is $2.5 million and most involve roads and sewers. The report found about two thirds of the projects involve repairs to existing structures. About a quarter are new construction and that will mean extra maintenance costs for municipalities in coming years, the PBO warned.

But the PBO was still not able to come to any firm conclusions about whether the stimulus program meets the government’s stated objectives of creating jobs and spurring economic growth.

For that, it needs more government numbers, accompanied by an independent gathering of information as well as public opinion research.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Coast guard ship triumph for ABCO

A nice little article about a small CG vessel delivery.
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THE INTERIOR is nice and shiny, with that new car smell. The dials sit ready for the engines to fire them up and it feels as if it’s anxious to hit the open road. Or, in this case, the open sea.

ABCO Industries Ltd. of Lunenburg has just finished building the CCGS Viola M Davidson, a sophisticated fisheries research vessel for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Davidson was one of the first women to do graduate studies in marine science. She carried out research for her master’s degree and PhD at the St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, which this vessel will call home.

"We’re pretty proud of it," ABCO Industries president John Meisner said of the ship that was officially launched on March 3 and is expected to be delivered to the Coast Guard by the beginning of May.

"It’s a complicated boat and there’s a lot of stuff in it but we did a good job on it."

There’s only one other boat in the world like it and that’s the CCGS Kelso, which ABCO also built and delivered to the Coast Guard in Burlington, Ont., almost a year ago.

Both are 18.5-metre scientific research vessels.

The key difference is the Viola M Davidson has more fishing gear and is able to sail year-round because of its cooling and exhaust systems.

The boat has already completed dock-side trials of all its systems and is wrapping up sea trials under the watchful eye of project manager Roger Doucett.

The Viola M Davidson has met and exceeded all of the Coast Guard’s requirements and expectations, he said.

Meisner said every component of the vessel undergoes rigorous testing. He has even sailed alongside the boat in another ship in order to see how the Viola M Davidson sits in the water.

The vessel sailed to Halifax in just over four hours last week then back again the same day. Thursday, her builders conducted fishing trials off Lunenburg Harbour that included setting the fishing nets that scientists will use to collect samples that will be frozen on board and taken back for study.

Next week they’ll try out the scallop fishing gear.

"It’s like a mini fishing and scallop dragger," Meisner explained. The vessel will trawl, drag and take samples of water and the ocean floor in the Bay of Fundy for analysis.

"It’s a very complex vessel, a very, very versatile vessel that can be used for a lot of applications," Meisner said, including fishing, search and rescue and scientific research.

As ABCO’s manufacturing supervisor, Joe Dicks oversaw construction of the Kelso and Viola M Davidson. His team began with an aluminum hull, which was built upside down inside one of the bays.

ABCO had to develop a new door to get the hull outside, where it was turned right side up, taken back into the shop and the nearly completed wheelhouse lifted into place.

"What makes it work is we have a great team here. They really take pride in their work and make it easy for us," Dicks said.

Meisner said getting the almost $3-million contract to build the ship generated a significant amount of work for ABCO, which had to extend its wharf to accommodate the vessel. It also generated work for area businesses such as L&B Electric Ltd. of Bridgewater and Hawboldt Industries of Chester.

Meisner hopes the contract will lead to others.

"This will give us very, very good exposure and our goal is to build more of these. . . . We did an excellent job. We have all the skills here to do it; the quality is the highest, the value is tremendous."

ABCO has been building boats since the 1980s. During the last 15 years it has focused its efforts on constructing boats for the petroleum industry and regulatory sector, including the Halifax Regional Police and navy vessels.

While building boats is an integral part of ABCO’s business, it also carries on three other major lines — making food processing equipment, environmental equipment and industrial fabrication. It also has its own with its own engineering and design office.

The company’s skills and knowledge have evolved from the years it spent building processing and conveyor systems for fish processing plants, Meisner said.

At the moment, machinists and welders are building steam blanching machines for the food industry in the United States, Mexico and Australia.

They have also started work on a mobile de-watering truck designed by ABCO.

The truck cleans out septic tanks, separates liquids and solids, returns the liquids to the tanks then trucks the solids away.

And they’re building a conveyor system for Michelin’s tire plant in Bridgewater.

"We have a lot going on here," Meisner said.

Source - http://thechronicleherald.ca/Business/1177830.html

More on the new vessel here, and here.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Epic Fail


Is it me or is the new Norwegian Cruise Line ship, Norwegian Epic, ugly? What possessed somebody to think this design would be appealing. I am surprise the French allowed this monstrosity to even come to the drawing board. I have worked on several french built ship, and the mechanics of them were pretty darn good, and the outside was too; what the heck happened with this?

I think NCL has had a bad rap, always being "the third", but I believe with this ship, they will out perform even Carnival, and their fleet of boxy, ugly ships. Carnival's and this new Epic looks like they were designed using legos. I hope its really nice inside, because I think they should have called her NCL Quasimodo instead.