Insulting and repulsive

Silja Festival – from interwebs

Last week, the operators of the Delta Spirit Lodge, through a Vancouver based Law Firm specializing in Commercial Law, put advertisements on the BC Government’s taxpayer funded WorkBC website.

The advertisement was looking for all ranks of seafarers, including marine professionals holding a Transport Canada engineering Certificate of Competency of Second and First Class. The Delta Spirit Lodge is actually the 28 year old MV Silja Festival, a Latvian flagged cruise ferry, owned and operated by Baltic Sea ferry heavyweight, Tallink.

The ship was pulled from regular ferry service in May 2013, and has been operating in Kitimat, British Columbia, under a Canada Coasting Trade Act waiver granted in May 2014. The waiver is to effect from February 2015, until February 2016. The Latvian flagged cruise ferry has been chartered by an Alberta company, and repositioned to Kitimat, to house construction workers.

Aerial shot of the town of Kitimat on BC’s Northern Coast

Kitimat, on the Northern BC coast, has a boom / bust economy. Right now, it is booming, with the aluminum smelter upgrades, and LNG export plant construction, creating a housing crunch. The lame split level 1970s homes populating the small hamlet, are going for an astronomical high price these days, so to cut worker housing costs, the ferry was brought in.

HT Laevateenindus (HT Shipmanagement) is the ship management company for the vessel Silja Festival. This vessel is in Canada, acting as a floating hotel for workers on the Kitimat Modernization Project and the Kitimat LNG Terminal Project in Kitimat, British Columbia for approximately 9 months.

The ads by the Tallin, Estonia, based HT Shipmanagement company seem to be a lightly veiled attempt at fulfilling what is an undoubtedly required process of trying to prove there is no local expertise available to crew this foreign ship. Its “failure” to attract Canadian certified Marine Engineers will mean the company will continue to utilize cheaper foreign Marine Engineers in Canada. I can see the reasoning of this, to maximize profits while doing business in BC, bypassing the accepted national norms – great for them, but nobody else. 

However, Canadian Marine Engineers have gone through a very painful and an arduous process of getting certified in Canada, and therefore should be the only ones to crew ships operating in Canada, and compensated according to local standards. If foreign companies can so easily undercut this hard work, what’s the point of wasting our time training any Ship Officers in Canada; what’s the point of Cabotage. In that case deregulate shipping in Canada altogether, and please deregulate certification while we’re at it, and, remove seafarer income tax barriers – level the playing field.

Silja Festival in Kitimat Source

The ads are looking for numerous levels of Transport Canada certified Marine Engineering professionals. The ads stipulate a three month on, three month off rotation, with a total time of nine months. The salary advertised for the First, Second and Watchkeeping Engineers is $33.52CDN per hour, with no additional benefits.

Assuming you are working a 4 on 8 off schedule, which is typical on this type of trade and vessel, that would work out to be about $270/day, $8000/mth, 48k/yr. All that, for an experienced Transport Canada First Class Certificate of Competency – wow! At least when sailing internationally, these figures would be in US dollars.

Here’s the skinny on the ads…

  • First Engineer: In-charge of an engine room watch, responsible to the Chief Engineer for operations and maintenance of the engine rooms and equipment. 9 months. Positions available: 2. Wage: 33.52 CAD/hour
  • Second Engineer: Responsible for engine room watch and to the 1st Engineer for operations and maintenance of the engine rooms and equipment. 9 months, Positions available: 2, Wage: 33.52 CAD/hour
  • Watch Engineer: Responsible for an engine room watch and for the operations and maintenance of the engine room and equipment. 9 months. Positions available: 2. Wage: 33.52 CAD/hour
  • Electrical engineer – Electro-technical Officer: Responsible for overseeing and carrying out maintenance, repairs and modifications of the electronic/electrical systems on board the vessel. 9 months. Positions available: 2. Wage: 34.28 CAD/hour
  • Refrigerator Equipment Engineer: Responsible for the maintenance and operation of the refrigerating and HVAC equipment on board, including planned maintenance and repairs to equipment, ensuring that Engine Room logs and maintenance records are completed. 9 months. Positions available: 2. Wage: 24.10 CAD/hour
…form the interwebs

With the amount of tradespeople being housed onboard, I would propose that the rate offered in these ads, to perhaps some of the most qualified and regulated professionals onboard – the Marine Engineers, is probably the lowest offered to any of the skilled trades onboard.

Most trades in BC – welders, carpenters, mechanics, electrician – journeyman rate is somewhere between 35-45 dollars per hours – plus benefits. Of course, I don’t have to list the far more extensive requirements achieved by the Canadian Marine Engineer, as opposed to a Trades Qualified journeyman, but suffice to say that a $33/hr rate is grossly out of whack, compared to the average journeyman pay rate, vis a vis certifications, skills an responsibilities.

The ads go on to specify requirements from the candidates:

  • Education: Diploma/certificates of proficiency of Chief Engineer. Must be willing to undergo ship type specific training according to STCW convention and Flag state requirements.
  • Work experience: At least 3 years’ experience on board similar size, class, and construction of vessel or sister ship as Second Engineer ore (sic) Chief Engineer.
  • Language: Written and Oral English is the required (sic). Written and Oral Estonian language is preferred.

The minimum pay rate for a Fourth Class, (the lowest rank in Canada) should be in the region of $400-475 a day; a First or Second Class, is considerably higher. The leave ratio of 3 months on / off is now completely out of norm in Canada. This leave ratio is barely in line with international cruise companies, who are offering a “10 weeks on, 10 weeks off” leave system. The leave system offered in Canada is usually a month on, month off, perhaps going to 6 weeks on / off. 

There is no way a person earning these advertised wages can sustain themselves, much less a family in Canada, and especially not in British Columbia. I don’t know of any Canadian Certified Marine Engineers who would be willing to accept these terms.

Basically, this Estonian company is advertising the same pay package they are probably offering their non-Canadians engineering officers currently onboard. It is, at best, a “low end”, to “middle of the road” pay package on the international market, and a “less than bottom end” package in Canada. The one huge difference is that those officers do not pay income taxes in their countries, so effectively
they can undercut their Canadian counterparts by a large percentage.

Canadian officers pay income tax and payroll taxes, probably in the region of 25-30%. Not to mention the high cost of additional mandatory cost such as BC Medical Service Plan premiums, and a litany of other costs to live here in Canada, and in particular in BC, with its astronomical high cost of living.

The lack of these costs for the foreign engineers is a sizable discount for foreign companies to operate in Canada, and an obvious unfair competitive disadvantage for Canadians. This is why you don’t see many Canadians engineering officers working internationally, we just can’t compete.

To have this happen in my own backyards is insulting and repulsive.

Silja Festival in Kitimat Source

I am surprised to even see these ads, I just assume the government would just roll over for the companies and corporations as it usually does, and let this foreign ship, operating with foreign crews on Canadian projects. The foreign workers are afforded the conveniences and safety of working in Canada with unfettered access to our publicly funded infrastructure, without paying any income taxes to Canada. So, kudos to whoever in government is forcing the issue, undoubtedly against great pressures.

How probable it is that they will find Marine Engineers certified by Transport Canada to answer these ads, I’d estimate there was no reasonable expectation of success – on purpose.

Which is probably why they are using a Vancouver based “Commercial Law” firm of Bernard LLP, to handle the applications – a highly unusual crewing arrangement. To any seasoned seafarer, this should tell you allot in of itself. For the rest of the hardworking, tax paying public, this should shed light on the validity of their intentions. 

Tip -Using child labor would probably
also increase profits, call it “training”

As it was with the Chinese, and the hiring of “skilled labour” for their infamous Tumbler Ridge cola mine in central BC, which made national headlines. The hiring criteria (mirrored by those above) were so narrow that it was meaningless to even ask for anything but slave labour, huh, I means, “temporary” foreign workers to exploit BC’s resources.

Strong unions raised up concerns about the true intentions of the Chinese mining company in courts of law and in public opinion courts. Eventually, the Chinese got their way and Canadian workers lost out on those valuable jobs. Unlike the mine, the very specialized and highly trained Marine Engineers and their low numbers, have no organization with clout to speak for them. The mine’s temporary foreign worker debacles is clearly whats ahead for us engineers in Canada.

The Canadian Marine Engineering ranks have been decimated by decades of abuse and neglect, and a successful assault by Canadian ship operators on labor coordination. Now the Canadian shipping industry is faced with a major problem, there is not enough certified Canadian engineers willing to suffer through harsh conditions, on subpar vessels, for subsistence wages.

After all, why would they, when all signs like these, point to a federal government unwilling to protect those highly skilled Canadians jobs and the families they support. However, these engineers and their families have, or are expected to, slog through endless and burdensome Canadian certification requirements, and then are expected to compete on an un-level playing field.

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, foreign certified Marine Engineers – in all probability all officers, not to mention, ratings – will most likely be kept on board this vessel in Kitimat; a foreign owned ship, with a foreign crew, operating in Canada, for a lengthy period of time regardless of the outcome of this futile exercise.

With the escalating rate of retirements and the numerous other projects coming online, Canadian ship operators are requiring a dramatic increase of Marine Engineers labor supply. However, Canada – its government, its unions and its ship operators – over the last few decades, has failed to nurture, even hampered, the ability of Marine Engineers to come into, and rise through the ranks. There is only one thing on the horizon – the end.

Harper’s TFW program;
yeaaaahhhh, thanks for that…

The choice that is emerging, by default, is the end of our profession in Canada, or continue to endure the unsustainable working conditions currently being imposed on us, and those, becoming even worst by actions such as these.

Hell of a choice.

I encourage all of you, my Transport Canada certified engineering peers, to send in your resume in response to these ads. Whether you are working or not, ashore or not, I want you to submit your resume, do it now.

Flood these people with your documents regardless of the terms they are offering. If they are actually serious, you can try to negotiate better terms, or decline the offer. Let me know what comes of it. This affects you, and cannot go unnoticed; spread the word to your local media, and Member of Parliament.

Please email or mail your application to:

1500 – 570 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 3P1
Attention:  Catherine Hofmann

Here’s some info from the BC Chamber of Shipping

Silja Festival
Built by STX Finland, Helsinki Yard in 1986
Owned and managed by AS Tallink Grupp
Technically managed by Owned by HT Shipmanagement, Tallinn, Estonia

LOA 168m
Beam 27.6m
GRT 34,414
Berths 1879
Speed 22 knots

The vessel has been chartered by Rio Tinto Alcan to house additional workers being contracted for the Kitimat smelter’s modernization project. The ship is expected to be used for nine months and will have a service staff of 110 persons.

This article has 9 Comments

  1. I sent mail to my MP, as well I sent mail to several shipping magazines. Next I will submit a CV. 🙂

    This bullshit cannot stand.

  2. The subject of International shipping Services In Canada has been covered intensively by the world press over the past decade. I find my self constantly drawn back to the subject of International shipping Services In Canada. Though International shipping Services In Canada is a favourite topic of discussion amongst monarchs, presidents and dictators, International shipping Services In Canada is featuring more and more in the ideals of the young and upwardly mobile. Inevitably feelings run deep amongst so called 'babies', trapped by their infamous history.

  3. At the Vancouver Seabus deckhands (Marine Attendants) working week on week off are making CD$. 70,000 to with OT 95,000 a year. Seaspan ferry deck hands work week on week off aprox $.80,000 per year with no OT.. All these companies pay benefits. BC ferry deck hand makes about 70,000 working 4 on 3 off. What a shame on Canada’s marine standards? We have to speak Estonian language and have experience in a sister ship which is in Estonia to work in Canadian soil? If you request a freedom of Information (FOI) from the government of Canada, you will see how much work permits have issued to this company to hire foreign workers as there are no Canadian workers available in Canada. Woow !

  4. Actualy a deckhand or engine room rating with BC Ferries makes a base of around 50000 plus benifits. After OT they may come in around 55000.
    Third and fourth engineers are around 65000 base, a little less than second officers on deck at around 75000. Time on and off is dependant on the rout with some being 12-6 8hr with a 4-4-4 rotation, 14-7 8hr for some minor routs or 4-4 12hr day for day. The northern rout is 14-14 split 12hr (8-4) i believe.

  5. I am in support of your argument and even now some years later the farce continues with Greek tankers plying the St. Lawrence with foreign crews, but this hotel ship was spliced to the dock in Kitimat supplied with all services from shore. Working aboard the floating hotel would have been a boring exercise and requiring only the presence and not the skills of a coc to comply with TC regs. The general contractor involved was Bechtel of the US.

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