Canadian Navy’s new Arctic ships have a flooding problem, say sailors

The ships only have a one-year warranty, which means the taxpayer is footing the bill for most of the repairs.

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Problems with the Canadian navy’s new patrol ships have led to significant flooding causing excessive corrosion while other defects have resulted in mechanical failures involving anchors, sailors have revealed.

The flooding is centered around the area where the anchor cable comes into an enclosed deck on the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships or AOPS.

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That problem resulted in an incident on board HMCS Harry DeWolf that saw severe flooding and the creation of a “salty sauna” environment that led to excessive corrosion, the Royal Canadian Navy sailors noted.

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To deal with the flooding, holes have now been cut in the side plating of the AOPS to allow the built-up water to drain.

In another incident, HMCS Harry DeWolf proceeded to weigh anchor but only part of the anchor came up from the seabed. The flukes from the anchor, the pointed parts that dig into the sea bottom, broke off and couldn’t be recovered, sailors noted.

Another AOPS anchor failure, this one on HMCS Margaret Brooke, happened after the retaining pins for the device sheared off because of material defects.

Sailors who have served on the AOPS said they observed the anchors do not have sufficient holding power even in conditions they are supposed to be able to handle.

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.

Military personnel, both retired and serving, came forward to this newspaper to challenge claims by National Defence that AOPS issues, including drinking water with higher than average levels of lead, are simply teething problems associated with all new vessels. Video of the flooding was provided by personnel who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

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The ships only have a one-year warranty, Canadian military personnel have also pointed out, which means the taxpayer is footing the bill for most of the repairs.

National Defence spokesman Alex Tétreault confirmed the details of the incidents as described by the sailors.

But the Royal Canadian Navy contends the various problems being faced by the AOPS fleet are normal.

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.”

This newspaper consulted with a senior retired Royal Canadian Navy officer who pointed out that the flooding that AOPS is dealing with is not normal. Neither are problems with anchors or contaminated water.

In its response, Irving also 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.”

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In an update on procurement published Feb. 27, National Defence cited AOPS and other equipment programs as evidence that “defence equipment acquisition is well-managed.”

Tétreault said in a statement that the navy has tried a number of times to fix the flooding issues. At first, they installed specialized covers but that didn’t work.

Another type of specialized cover has been tried. In addition, holes have been cut into the ships and those have been outfitted with spring-loaded doors to allow the water to drain from the flooded compartment. “These measures are in place for all in-service ships, with the exception of HMCS Margaret Brooke (pending resources availabilities),” Tétreault noted in the department’s statement.

Tétreault said there have been difficulties in determining what caused the anchor failure on HMCS Harry DeWolf. “The Royal Canadian Navy was unable to retrieve the anchor flukes from the seabed, so there is limited ability to confirm what caused this failure,” he added.

He stated the current design of the AOPS anchors meets the navy’s requirements. “Nonetheless, there have been concerns about the holding power of the anchor,” Tétreault explained. “This concern is being investigated by experts within the in-service support and operational authorities within DND.”

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In the case of the anchor on HMCS Margaret Brooke, an investigation revealed that material defects in the device caused the pins to shear off. Repairs have been made, Tétreault added.

On Feb. 14, this newspaper revealed that the AOPS were also dealing with a refuelling system that’s too heavy to use as well as structural issues hindering the operation of Cyclone helicopters from the vessels.

The Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships also can’t perform emergency towing, as was required in the original contract, and some cranes on the vessels are inoperable, National Defence confirmed. As well, the supplier of satellite communications systems on the vessels no longer has the security clearance to provide the navy with parts.

National Defence says repairs and various fixes for the issues are in the works or are being examined. “As the repairs are ongoing, we do not yet have a full estimated cost,” the department noted in its earlier email to this newspaper. “The Government of Canada and the shipbuilder agreed that certain deficiencies could be corrected after delivery.”

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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 acknowledged that issues with internal and external drainage systems on the ships not working properly have resulted in flooding of interior compartments. “The flooding of interior compartments could lead to mould build-up, equipment damage and electrical concerns,” it added.

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.”

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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 refuelling 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 (refuelling) 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.

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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 manoeuvring 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 department pointed out.

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 its statement to this newspaper, Irving also cited Topshee making positive comments about AOPS 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.

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Both National Defence and Irving also noted the 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: ottawacitizen.com/subscribe

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