Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bottleneck means country's new supply ships delayed

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OTTAWA -- The Canadian navy will retire its aging supply ships and will have to wait at least 18 months before new ones arrive, federal and military officials confirmed on Friday.

The gap is the result of a bottleneck in the Harper government's national shipbuilding strategy because one of the yards where civilian-grade vessels are being built can only handle one major project at a time.

Officials were forced to choose between replacing the navy's 1960s vintage supply ships and the aging coast guard icebreaker Louis St. Laurent.

They chose the replenishment ships, which have been the subject of an on-again, off-again procurement process for nearly a decade.

The new joint support ships, based on a German design, will begin construction in late 2016 with a target of having them in service by 2019-20, almost two years later than the last estimate contained in last spring's federal budget.

The gap for the navy's supply ships, however, means Canadian warships will have to rely on other allies for fuel and ammunition when deployed overseas.

Officials, speaking on background because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Friday that's not unusual; allies have been called upon in the past whenever one of the existing ships -- HMCS Preserver or HMCS Protecteur -- was in drydock for repairs and upgrades.

Meantime, one coast guard official said the icebreaker will remain in service until 2021-22, but it will require as much as $55 million in refits and upgrades to keep going over 10 years.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A22

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