Canadian Maritime Engineering in Port Alberni is building for the future.
Shipbuilding and marine industry was recognized as one of the main six sectors of the economy in which Port Alberni is situated for growth, in a recent report known as the Sector Diversification by Data Design (SD3). This is a pilot project, run by the provincial government and the city of Port Alberni, that analyzes employment numbers and income by industry.
“We use different models to determine where the biggest opportunities lie,” said economic development manager Pat Deakin. “Marine industry is definitely a sector that will stay within the top five or six clusters that we end up being focused on.”
This is driven largely by the work that Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME) is doing, said Deakin.
CME (formerly known as Canadian Alberni Engineering) is a marine service and repair centre operating near the Harbour Quay. The company hires 40 employees in Port Alberni, most of which are Red Seal journeymen and tradesmen. CME’s head office is located in Dartmouth, and there are nine divisions across Canada.
This year, CME started working on its largest vessel yet: an 85-foot catamaran for the Prince Rupert tourism operator West Coast Launch.
Fabrication of the hull is now complete, said Steve Dunagan, general manager at CME, and the project is expected to be finished in August of this year.
“That’s the largest one we’ve got going now,” said Dunagan.
CME specializes in aluminum and steel vessels. The company is also currently working on a 42-foot Icebreaker for Syncrude in Alberta, and recently finished a work boat for Nitinat Hatchery.
“We have seven on the go right now,” said Dunagan. “That’s somewhat normal for us.”
The number of boats is dictated by floor space, which is “literally covered” right now, according to Dunagan. This is part of the reason for CME’s acquisition of property at the former Plywood Mill site, next to Canal Waterfront Park.
In early May, the city of Port Alberni issued a building permit to CME for a marine fabrication centre at this site. The $2 million investment will involve the construction of a 33 metre by 45 metre steel marine fabrication centre, freestanding at the Plywood site.
“We intend to use it for fabrication of larger vessels,” said Dunagan. “Right now we’re digging the foundation.”
This is the “first phase” of a long-term plan for the company. CME is hiring local Vancouver Island and Port Alberni contractors to do the construction, which is expected to be completed by next summer.
“This will allow us to increase our capacity and hire more people,” said Dunagan.
The city of Port Alberni, the Port Authority (PAPA) and CME recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a floating dry dock business plan. The deadline for submissions is July 3, and Deakin said the candidate is expected to be chosen by July 18.
“It’s a lot of work in a short amount of time,” he said.
The floating dry dock is expected to be a $48 million project, with CME committing $12 million of this cost.
“We are wanting to be able to show potential investors that the business is there,” said Deakin. “It will show that there is a business case for it for the foreseeable future.”
A business plan will provide a timeline for investors to see a return on their money. It will also identify how many jobs it will create, what kinds of jobs and how long these jobs will last.
“There’s also the hope that people will become more aware of the opportunity to get boat building, boat repairs and boat maintenance done in Port Alberni,” said Deakin. A business case, he added, could open up that sector of the economy significantly, and other experts in radar, hydraulics, etc. could be required.
CME is the main ship-building business operating in Port Alberni, after Kamma and Blake Industries was absorbed by the company in a merger in 2014. This was shortly after CME was purchased by the Russell Group of Companies in 2013.
“The same staff is here,” explained Dunagan. “[Russell Industries] is helping us to grow and develop the business to move ahead into the next generation.”
As for the future of ship building, Dunagan explained that the work comes in “seasons.”
“Right now we’re very active, and it looks to be very active in the foreseeable future,” he said.
Although CME began as a ship-building company, it has expanded into serving BC forestry, mining and power generation industries. The company has worked on conveyors and structural steel for local businesses, and even worked on projects for fish farms during a “lull” in ship building.
“Times change,” said Dunagan. “That slowed down, and boat building picked up.”