ArticlesNational Defence

Leaks, ineffective anchors, mechanical breakdowns among ongoing problems facing new Arctic patrol ships

Posted By March 13, 2024 No Comments

Meanwhile, the vessels constructed by Irving Shipbuilding only come with a one-year warranty.

The HMCS Margaret Brooke, is docked at a ceremony as the second Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) is delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy from Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax on Thursday, July 15, 2021. PHOTO BY ANDREW VAUGHAN /The Canadian Press

(Written by David Pugliese. Originally published here in the Ottawa Citizen, republished with permission.)

The Royal Canadian Navy is trying to fix a series of problems on its new Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships including anchors that aren’t effective, a refueling system that’s too heavy to use, and areas on the vessels that are leaking.

In addition, the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) can’t perform emergency towing as was required in the original contract and some cranes on the vessels are inoperable, National Defence confirmed to this newspaper.

Structural issues are also hindering the operation of Cyclone helicopters from the ships and the supplier of satellite communications systems on the vessels no longer has the security clearance to provide the navy with parts.

The problems are on top of previous issues with mechanical breakdowns and safety concerns about drinking water on the ships because of lead.

National Defence says repairs and various fixes for the issues are in the works or are being examined.

Taxpayers are spending almost $5 billion on the six ships for the Royal Canadian Navy. The vessels are being constructed by Irving Shipbuilding and a number have already been delivered.

The ships only come with a one-year warranty, National Defence confirmed. That means taxpayers will be on the hook to repair a number of the deficiencies.

“As the repairs are ongoing, we do not yet have a full estimated cost,” National Defence noted in its email to this newspaper. “The Government of Canada and the shipbuilder agreed that certain deficiencies could be corrected after delivery,” the department added.

Irving Shipbuilding noted in a statement to this newspaper that, “through the process of designing, constructing, commissioning, and operating new ships, stakeholders work together to identify and resolve a range of issues. This is a normal but essential element of shipbuilding.”

National Defence provided this newspaper with a list of issues but noted that not all of the problems on the AOPS were outlined.

Among those listed are issues with internal and external drainage systems on the ships not working properly, resulting in flooding of interior compartments, according to the department. “The flooding of interior compartments could lead to mould build-up, equipment damage and electrical concerns,” it added. Work is underway to fix the problems.

Then there are issues with the design of the anchors on AOPS. Those allow for the vessels to be anchored in sheltered conditions.

But the navy wants an anchor to work in open ocean as well as in situations where the ships are close to shore. “To date, (HMCS Harry DeWolf) and (HMCS Margaret Brooke) experienced difficulties holding position while at anchor in conditions at or above the design specifications,” National Defence noted. More tests on the anchors will be conducted in the spring.

National Defence also pointed out that trials on whether Cyclone helicopters could operate from the ships “identified a significant number of deficiencies and modifications that will require consideration to achieve full operational capability.”

Such modifications will be brought in over the next few years but the department did not provide a date when the ships will be fully capable of using the helicopters.

National Defence also noted the cranes on the ships have “experienced defects and deficiencies since delivery.”

Some repairs have been done but a particular type of crane outfitted on three of the ships has “been deemed inoperable and options are being evaluated for their replacement.”

In addition, the AOPS are required to be able to conduct emergency towing of ships up to its own displacement. But National Defence noted, “the towing equipment delivered by the build contractor has not met the contractual requirements and as such, towing trials for the class have been delayed.”

The AOPS are also outfitted with equipment to allow for refueling at sea. But the equipment is too heavy for the crew to use without some kind of mechanical assistance. “Work is ongoing to establish safe standard operating procedure to erect the (refueling) post,” National Defence confirmed.

Other problems, such as contaminated fuel, and issues with systems to launch lifeboats, are also being examined or fixed.

The AOPS have already faced a series of ongoing problems.

This newspaper reported in 2022 that the first AOPS, HMCS Harry DeWolf, had been taken out of service for several months because of ongoing mechanical problems, including issues with diesel generators. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of drinking water on the vessels.

An investigation revealed that some fittings and valves in the potable water system were manufactured from alloys that exceeded the allowable amount of lead, National Defence confirmed. Irving Shipbuilding installed the fittings and valves on four of the AOPS.

In addition, HMCS Max Bernays was accepted from Irving even though a system that allows the vessel to manoeuvre wasn’t functioning properly. There were also problems with the fire suppression system on HMCS Harry DeWolf.

National Defence has now confirmed repairs have been made to the generators on HMCS Harry DeWolf and the manouevring system on Max Bernays has been fixed. As for the issues regarding fire suppression systems and drinking water, solutions have been or will be implemented.

The AOPS program was launched by the former Conservative government with a minimum of five ships for the navy. The Liberal government, first elected in 2015, approved the construction of a sixth ship for the navy and two more for the coast guard.

In 2017, the Senate Defence Committee raised concerns about the capabilities of the AOPS. “This (concern) is based on the fact that these ships cannot operate in ice more than a metre thick, are slower than a BC Ferry, can only operate in the Arctic from June to October and will require a Coast Guard escort when in the northern waters,” the senators pointed out in their report. “These limitations are troubling and raise the question of whether the taxpayers are receiving value for the monies spent.”

But Irving, in its statement to this newspaper, pointed to a video released by the navy in December 2023 in which Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee noted the AOPS “are outperforming expectations and proving the value of the National Shipbuilding Strategy.”

Irving also cited Topshee making similar comments that month to an association that lobbies for more funding and support for the navy.

“We remain committed to the delivery of high-quality vessels, to continuous improvement, and to the realization of the goals set out by Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy,” Irving’s statement noted.

Both National Defence and Irving pointed to successful deployments of the new ships.

But in the departmental results report released by Defence Minister Bill Blair on Jan. 22 2024, the military pointed to what it determined were problems on AOPS that “required significant work to rectify” and resulted in some of the vessels not being available.

David Pugliese is an award-winning journalist covering Canadian Forces and military issues in Canada. To support his work, subscribe: