Someone needs to be held accountable with this...(the words escape me). Debacle? Shared under the fair dealings provisions of the copyright act.
Union alleges coast guard vessels are unsafe
ANDREA GUNN OTTAWA BUREAU
Published December 13, 2015 - 7:40pm
Ships were accepted despite pre-construction concerns
Canada’s $200-million fleet of new coast guard mid-shore patrol vessels were accepted and put to use despite a series of serious safety concerns first identified before their construction, some of which are still outstanding.
According to two current and one former Union of Canadian Transportation Employees officials, concerns that the fleet of nine Hero-class, 43-metre patrol vessels were not sufficiently up to safety standards were initially raised by the project team before they were built, but the problems were not mitigated during their design and construction.
The union’s Atlantic region occupational health and safety branch subsequently brought the issues to Canadian Coast Guard management nearly two years ago.
Wayne Fagan, regional vice-president of the union’s Atlantic branch, said he doesn’t understand why the coast guard accepted ships that, according to the on-site project team, were not safe to use, only to have to spend more to correct the issues after the fact.
“(These ships) are built to standards that are less than the standards they have in Third World countries right now,” Fagan said.
The vessels were constructed as part of a contract awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in 2009, with the function of supporting Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s compliance and enforcement program on Canada’s coastline. They were delivered from 2012 to 2014. Two vessels — the CCGS G. Peddle and the CCGS Corporal McLaren M.M.V. — are based in Halifax.
Documents obtained by The Chronicle Herald show an assurance of voluntary compliance was signed by coast guard management in February agreeing to investigate and mitigate 11 items by the end of March. Five issues have yet to be fixed, and although some of the complaints have been closed, there is still concern among union officials that some of those safety issues have not been sufficiently addressed.
The concerns include problems with what’s called bulkhead penetration, which means water can flow from compartment to compartment, putting the ship at higher risk of sinking, as well as rolling stabilization, and the ability to lower lifeboats with the crew aboard.
There is also a major structural fire protection issue. If there is a blaze aboard one of the vessels, the 14-person crew has a total of two minutes to vacate the ship before the deckhouse — which contains all the vessel’s communication capabilities — begins to collapse. This issue cannot be fixed, Fagan said, only mitigated through procedural precautions.
“If there’s a fire, we’re going to have issues,” he said.
John Dalziel is the former Halifax union president and was one of the members of the project team that first identified the safety concerns. He is a naval architect by trade, and has nearly 50 years in the industry.
The Hero-class ships are the Canadianized version of the Dutch-designed Damen Stan 4200 patrol vessel, a ship used in countries around the world. Dalziel said according to documents he has seen, vessels of this type operated by other countries have structural fire protection that is much higher than Canada’s fleet, giving the crews ample time to vacate.
He said after his on-site project team submitted their list of concerns about the safety of the vessels to coast guard management before their completion, he was told verbally and in writing to not report any of the concerns to the fleet — the people who would actually be operating the ships.
“I’ve been in this industry for half a century,” Dalziel said. “… I’ve never been involved in a project that has been managed quite this way. I had never been instructed before (then) not to report a safety concern.”
He said he would like to see a policy in place that would require safety concerns to be addressed as soon as possible after they are identified.
Wade Stagg, acting regional director of fleet in the Atlantic region, said the coast guard had no concerns with accepting the ships, despite the issues outlined by the project team, because the Hero-class vessels were designed and constructed under the guidance of Lloyd’s Register, an international inspection company, and met Transport Canada safety requirements.
Although the coast guard signed off on an assurance of voluntary compliance to mitigate the safety issues, it does not mean the ships are unsafe to use in the interim, Stagg said.
“That goes on with ships all the time. They’re deemed safe, but as time goes on, you do things that make them safer.”
He was not able to provide a timeline for the completion of the work or an estimated price tag, but he said some of the outstanding concerns will be addressed in an upcoming scheduled refit in February.
“We’re working with the union, we’re working with the vessels, we’re working with Transport Canada and Lloyd’s. We have a fix, and we have a way forward on each one of those items.”
Christine Collins, the union’s national president, said although the process has been unbearably slow, she is satisfied that the employer has acknowledged and is attempting to address the issues. Collins said union officials want to continue to work with the coast guard to resolve the issues voluntarily, but failing sufficient mitigation, they will be forced to issue an order to the employer.
Other than the safety issues outlined by the union, there have been other problems with the vessels. The Chronicle Herald reported in November that the CCGS G. Peddle has been laid up since September awaiting repairs to its lifeboat davit braking system. In June, the McLaren experienced a loss of propulsion that led to a disabling injury of an employee; that instance has since been investigated and the problem corrected.
Fagan said the number of problems with the Hero-class fleet has made them a joke among the crew, but the questions that still exist surrounding their safety is no laughing matter.
“We keep asking, are theses vessels safe? And the answer comes back, ‘They’re according to class.’
“In other words, the insurer has basically signed them off and that they’re according to class, but that doesn’t answer the question of if they’re safe.”