2012 part 3 - Big plans

Continued from 2012 part 2 - From sea to sea to sea

The big news of the 2011 was probably the National Ship Procurement Strategy. The much heralded NSPS is a great step forward, in the fact that the government recognized, after decades of neglect, that they need to build ships; then went on to try to figure out how to do it. A major accomplishment, but at the end of the day the NSPS deal is just a "Hello"; there is still no steel being cut on any new ships, nor is this deal providing any concrete targets and contracts. All terms are subject to funding.

With a decimated shipbuilding capacity, the cost will skyrocket, officials with shake, and stupid mistakes will be made.  I hope I am wrong, but there is much hype pinned on this NSPS deal, which I am unsure the Canadian skill capital is able to fulfill, never mind the actual financial capital.

The Navy is still struggling to find enough manpower to man their technical and engineering positions. Coast Guard is, once again - i should say, perpetually - in "cost cutting mode" which to me, seems to only result in cutting ships and services, and not bureaucratic overhead. Meaning that ships will get shorter than their original designs, then ultimately will not be as useful in accomplishing its goals. Ultimately, it remains to be seen if government really has built any "teeths" into NSPS.

I would like to dream that the government of Canada has made a significant first step with NSPS, to develop a taste for a broader maritime policy. But, alas, I don't believe there is an appetite for this, and therefore we are doomed to the status quo, which I don't see as being sustainable for much longer.

Over in Quebec, similar rhetoric from their provincial government is being spun about with Le Plan Nord. Touting billions of dollars investment by foreign companies - mostly in mining, the plan will undoubtedly rely heavily on sea transport, but it all comes with major caveats and at what cost to our social structures and landscapes.

All these schemes and plans sounds really good, but the reality is that human capital is unable to meet current demands, never mind future ones. The movers and shakers know all about the "golden calf" and how to make it tick, but still have not quite mastered those pesky humans traits. I am tired of hearing myself lament the ineffectual leadership of government, unions and companies so I will spare you the details. I assume the end game is to decimate cabotage rules, but even this strategy will in my estimation, prove problematic.

Take for instance our scraggly unforgiving coast line, one that seems endless, just the pilotage requirements for this strategy seem hardly achievable without major investments into pilots, which means deck officers, which means schools, ships, etc. I don't think the public has any appetite for "oiled birds", and considering the vast amount of natural resources exported, Canada cannot go without shipping; take the public outcry over the ongoing MSC Rena in New Zealand for example.

The notion that "third world" seafarers being trained enough, and plentiful enough to meet Canadian needs are "pipe dreams" without some major, major refocusing of our rose coloured glasses. Substandard shipping might be good for a temporary solution, but I don't believe it is a credible option, like I mentioned before, Canada has sat comfortably on its shipping laurel, if you can call them that, but meanwhile, the world has been running.

As I step off my soapbox, I see the Canadian maritime industry in 2012 remaining gloomy and cautious, despite signs that a steady uptick, is well entrenched, in particular for the skilled mariners. I believe we are seeing the ground shift beneath our feet as this "uptick" occurs, and mariners, in particular engineers leave the available workforce at sea, and less obviously, shore side. I see many projects on the table, but I don't see a complete viable plan to make them happen, so 2012 will be more or less the same as 2011 - encouraging, certainly promising, but still froth with uncertainty.

This is a 3 part series, examining my expectations for the Canadian marine industry in 2012, as it affects us marine engineers, and other professional seafarers. It is based on feedback, discussions from my websites, real world observations and discussions, and media reports.  

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,