And still another ship proposal

There is a very interesting thread over on which begins with a post by Chris Pook, who often comments here, too, in which he wonders if we should not have a new ship conversion projects (à la converting the Asterix into a useful fleet support ship) to provide us with an ‘Afloat Support Base’ or a ‘Expeditionary Mobile Base.’

Another member, Baz, offers a lot of well informed commentary and there seems to be some support for the idea that an agency like Chantier Davie‘s Federal Fleet Services could/should convert an appropriate commercial vessel into something that could even be used by Davie, itself and ‘rented’ to the Government of Canada (or, presumably a foreign government) when required.

The idea is to go from something like this, a commercial roll-on/roll-off (RORO) cargo carrier …


… to something akin to this, a multi-purpose vessel.

It’s been done before. This vessel…


… the UK’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus, was back almost 40 years ago a civilian cargo ship the MV Contender Bezant


… she was modified a bit in 1982 and rushed into support service for the Falkland War, looking like this …

4m395xy5mv0z.jpg … and was eventually fully refitted and is now a classic general purpose ship which even serves as a hospital ship, despite being armed for other tasks:


A large ship, say something in the range of 900+ feet and 60,000+ tons can carry lots of troops, vehicles and cargo and serve as a floating hospital and, simultaneously, as a floating support base and headquarters.

A large ship like that might well be a ship that Canada would like to have but I’ll go out on a limb and say that it is NOT a ship that the Royal Canadian Navy needs and I’m sure Merchant Vessel Hartland Point Carrying Military Equipment During Cougar 12I’m on very safe ground when I say that it’s NOT a ship the RCN wants to have to pay for. The Navy would, I suspect, like to have the capacity to call on the services of civilian vessels as the UK’s Royal Navy does with four Foreland Shipping vessels which operate under a Private Finance Initiative, which is something like a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, to provide the British government with a backup to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

I have to wonder if someone in government is looking at the idea of a public private partnership deal with one or more of our major shipbuilding companies to build a general purpose support/multi-purpose vessel (or a few vessels) which can be ‘rented’ by the government on a long term basis for use by several government departments, including Global Affairs and Defence.

It also brings to mind a bigger issue. Most of the world’s navies, including the RCN, use Navy ships, warships for replenishment at sea … that’s why Canada is buying two new Protecteur class Support Ships which should be completed before  2025. But not all navies do that … the British Royal Navy, for example, refuels and rearms and resupplies its combat fleets just like we and the Americans and Australians do except that the ships and crews are civilian, sort of … they are part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary which has a special status, in law, and which goes into combat, and, as recently as the Falklands War (again) sees its ships sunk and its sailors killed in action. Several years ago the government of the day was seized with the issue of ‘alternative service delivery’ which, in many cases, meant contracting out selected functions, even, perhaps, some combat support functions. Perhaps, given that I understand that the Canadian Armed Forces, including the Navy, are having trouble attracting and keeping enough of the people they need, the RCN should look at an alternative service delivery model for replenishment at sea ~ that model might involve something akin to a PPP with shipbuilders and merchant marine service providers.

Now, the issue of both a hospital ship, and a disaster relief ship have been discussed before and in each case I suggested that while each would, certainly, be nice to have they should be national assets, not part of the defence team, and funded by either Global Affairs or the political centre.

Now, I am not arguing for any particular ‘solution’ to any huge problem … but I am suggesting that the government, including the Navy, should take a good look at what we, as a nation, might want to do in a range of situations and how it can be done in the most efficient and cost effective ways. Having the right resources, which might include such soft power building tools as ships that can do disaster relief and provide hospital services, might be highly desirable and it might be better to have these service provided by a private contractor than to have government owned and operated vessels. That might mean looking at renewing the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, it might mean reexamining how the Navy does replenishment at sea, it might mean thinking harder about how government projects are funded and how Public Private Partnerships work.

If I knew any of the answers I would propose one or more; I don’t so, like my friend Chris, I’m just wondering out loud, in text, anyway.

5 thoughts on “And still another ship proposal”

  1. Continuing in the “thinking out loud” vein”:

    Here is an article that our mutual friend Colin Parkinson brought to our attention. It talks about the effect a lack of shipping has on northern communities.

    FedNav, a Canadian company, operates a fleet of 60 ships that trade internationally, many of which are at least ice strengthened, such as the Umiak 1 which is larger than either of Davie’s Asterix or SeaLand’s JSS/AORs. It has an entire division devoted to Arctic Operations supporting trading in Canada’s arctic.

    And while we are on the subject of arctic infrastructure, here is another article, also mentioned by Colin, about the prospect of building a pipeline to Churchill and shipping oil via Hudson’s Bay.

    There are suitably designed tankers for those types of operations already in service in the Baltic and across the top of Russia. They are known as Double Acting ships, meaning that they are shaped like conventional ocean going ships when travelling forwards and like ice-breakers when travelling in reverse. The design is well known to Canadian shipbuilders on the west coast and was considered for the AOPS currently entering service with the RCN. In fact the Norwegian ship that inspired the AOPS fleet, the Svalbard, is built as a Double Acting Ship.

    I share your opinion that there is a PFI/PPP opportunity to supply infrastructure that could benefit Canada’s domestic, commercial and strategic needs as well as supplying capabilities that could be exploited by the Canadian Forces.

    Of course it might mean that Industry Canada (or Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada as it is now known) did more than just poaching on military contracts looking for handouts from foreign suppliers. Perhaps they could consider the needs of DND and the RCN when subsidizing Canadian industry, along with the needs of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and resource development.

    And while talking about poaching, I appreciate the opportunity to poach on your good name. Thanks for creating this site and letting us hear your opinions. Always interesting.

  2. Would there maybe be an opportunity to partner with existing Canadian Roll-On/Roll-Off ship operators like Marine Atlantic and BC Ferries to subsidize a RO/RO for their fleets? The government could stipulate that the design must have certain features such as a convertible deck to allow a helipad to be quickly added, a freight elevator between decks, military compatible navigation and communication systems, etc.

    The ships could enter regular commercial service with the civilian operators and provide additional capacity for peacetime freight and passenger movement on our coasts, but could be called into federal service when required.

    It could also possibly be stipulated that each ship have a certain number of it’s crew positions filled by Naval Reservists, giving them experience in handling and operating the ship in peacetime and also providing in effect another form of cash subsidy (in the form of the wages of the Reservists) to the carrier to partially offset the cost of operating the vessel.

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