Irving mounts public relations push as questions swirl around frigate program

Click to play video: 'Irving Shipyard holds media tour to update shipbuilding contract'
Irving Shipyard holds media tour to update shipbuilding contract
WATCH ABOVE: Irving Shipbuilding opened its doors Friday and gave the media a tour of its shipyard's multi-million dollar upgrades since winning the federal shipbuilding contract. There has been uncertainty around government's plans to refurbish the navy and coast guard vessels. But Irving says they are ready and on track to deliver the ships. Rebecca Lau has more – Mar 4, 2016

Officials at Irving Shipbuilding opened the company’s massive new facility on the Halifax waterfront to the media on Friday in a response to recent speculation about the future of Ottawa’s plan to refurbish the Royal Canadian Navy.

President Kevin McCoy led a tour around the imposing ship assembly hall and a fabrication facility in Dartmouth to show off the company’s capabilities as work continues on the construction of the first of six Arctic patrol vessels.

READ MORE: Irving shipyard development likely to go ahead despite budget concerns: premier

Irving has yet to sign a contract for the high-profile replacement of the navy’s frigates — a program awarded to the Halifax shipyard with much fanfare in October 2011. And last week the federal government revised the framework for the frigate replacement program, opting for a proven foreign design over a custom domestic blueprint.

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“We’re doing this today because we’ve gotten a lot of questions about what’s happened over the last four years,” said McCoy during Friday’s tour.

McCoy said Irving wants Canadians to know that work has been ongoing and the company is positioned and technically capable of meeting any requirements laid out by Ottawa and the navy.

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“We not only built the facility…but now we are up and running and the benefit of all of that prep work over the last four years is that we can efficiently go into shipbuilding,” he said.

The company began construction of the Arctic patrol vessels last September.

The 6,400-tonne ships are being built like giant lego projects inside the cavernous assembly hall, which the company says is the largest covered shipbuilding facility in North America.

WATCH: Irving Shipbuilding gives a tour of its facilities in Halifax.
Click to play video: 'Halifax Shipyard Tour 2016'
Halifax Shipyard Tour 2016

It’s 47 metres high at its highest point and at 408 metres in length is longer than four football fields.

Inside, state-of-the-art computerized cutting machines are used on the steel which is then shaped and welded in place into giant blocks that are stacked into the three mega blocks or sections that make up each ship — aft, centre and bow.

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READ MORE: Navy shipbuilding in midst of rough seas: Canadian Global Affairs Institute

McCoy downplayed Ottawa’s revision of the frigate plan, saying he sees it as a “refinement” rather than uncertainty about the program.

He said Irving recognizes the advantages of working with firms that have existing designs.

“Less cost, less developmental risk, more cost certainty up front once we do get a contract, but also it takes about two years off the design timeline,” said McCoy.

However, he wouldn’t discuss cost or numbers of ships and would only say that the Irving shipyard was prepared to build 15 frigates beginning sometime in early 2020.

Original estimates pegged the cost of building 15 warships at around $26 billion, but internal documents and published reports last fall suggested the price tag could go as high as $40 billion.

McCoy deflected a recent media report that the work schedule is already four weeks behind for the patrol vessels.

“We see nothing right now that impacts delivering the first ship in 2018 as we planned,” he said. “We have not projected that the first ships will be late.”

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