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.

This article has 11 Comments

  1. Port Mechins was built orginally as a steamship to work in the Suez Canal. It was brought to Canada and worked for J.P.Porter as the Lockeport until the mid 1970s. In the late 1970s it was totally rebuilt as a motorship.
    It has been the only trailing suction hopper type dredge working under Canadian flag in eastern Canada for years. It seemed to have a lock on the Traverse project, as the only suitable vessel able to do the work.
    It is really not surprising that no other operator could justify the investment in such a vessel if the one major project for this type of ship was not open to other bidders.

  2. Great insight, thanks for the additional information. Yes you do have a good point about the limited use of this vessel elsewhere, but that should be accounted for in the life cycle planning and plans for replacement should have been anticipated (or maybe they are / were in this case). What am I saying, nobody plans for the future anymore, especially not shipping companies.

  3. Ooops mixing my plurals and one ofs up in one sentence. Should read "for rather trivial matters" with no "a".
    Like everyone else TC seems to be going through growing pains with CSA 2001.
    I think a lot of issues are a lack of Government vision. The ruling parties only plan on what will keep them in power, not what will help the country 25 years out. Porkbelly politics.

  4. Yes, vision is so important, but government is not alone in this department. Businesses and even us seem to rarely sit down and have a look ahead. I am not sure what it takes to change this, but I am sure it is very important for the government and industry to have some if they are to survive, prosper.

  5. Great site Duck,
    The Atchafalaya is actually impounded by the Canadian Marshalls pending a court case brought by Draggage Verrault.She has been layed up crewless for over a year. The dredge had subcontracted a job from Verrault and defaulted, Mrs Verrault is looking to get the dredge as a result, as her own fleet is at the end of its life.

    My father was an engineer on her for 10 yrs, and forwaded me your blog. I am a captain on the largest US flag hopper dredge.

    I totally agree with you regarding Cabotage laws, the Dutch would love to break into the US/Canadian dredge market.
    There is just not enough work to justify a new build dredge in Canada without government subsidy (like our Army Corp of Engineers)

    It looks like Mrs Verrault might get her wish. Witt Barlow, the owner of the Atchafalaya, has given up trying to deal with the Canadian legal system and is going to sell the dredge. Mrs Verrault is looking to buy cheap. But the Atchafalaya is one of the oldest in the US fleet, she needs a LOT of work, and being laid up unmanned thru a northern winter has not been kind.
    Maybe the Canadian Coast Gaurd is more leniant than the US.
    Good Luck, Great site.

  6. Well thank you for the kind comments Bill. Great insight.

    I had no idea this post would generate this kind of response. I guess dredging is close to seafarer's heart, especially in this area.

  7. The latest call for proposals from the Canadian government for dredging the North Traverse will now require the trailing suction hopper dredge to be Canadian registered during the course of the work.(June and August to October of each year.)
    It is a six year contract for 50,ooo cubic meters per year.
    It is also combined with the dredging contract for Bécancour to Batiscan and Cape Santé, which do not require a TSHD.
    It further specifies that the vessel must be either a split hull or have bottom doors, with a minimum capacity of 750 cubic meters.
    Get your bids in by February 3, 2011.
    Reference PW-SIQCM-008-13350,
    Solicitation number EE 517-111250/B.

  8. I used to work on the Port Mechins (2003 to 2007), the ship was still sea worthy for the St.Lawrence.

    However, when Verreault returned to Magdaleine Islands for Mines Seleine, that's where the problems started.

    Of course the biggest problem was that the contracts available for such a dredge left no money to build a new one or buy a more recent one. The autorities had no vision for the future.

    But this winter, a new contract was given to Groupe Ocean and they are building a new dredge. I heard that the contract was for at least 5 years with around 65 000 cubic meters.

    Still, I don't think it is a big enough contract to justify building a new dredge.

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