Fuel costs dock navy ships
A $51-million fuel bill last year keeps fleet in harbour
By VALERIE DUFOUR, SUN MEDIA
The Calgary Sun
MONTREAL -- Ballooning fuel prices and recruitment problems kept Canadian navy vessels docked for much of last year, Sun Media has learned.
The 34 vessels deployed on Canada's East and West coasts, on average, spent only 81 days at sea in 2007, according to documents obtained by Sun Media through the Access to Information Act.
Fuel costs for Canada's navy ships jumped 50% last year, the documents revealed, and are expected to rise another 25% this year.
"The rapidly rising price of oil will have dramatic consequences on the 2007-2008 operations budget," said David Statham, a former Canadian naval officer.
This increase will also impact on the operational capacity of the Canadian fleet.
More than $51 million was spent on fuel for the vessels last year, up from $34.1 million the year before. With oil prices now close to $130 a barrel, things are unlikely to improve in 2008.
"The (fuel) bill will certainly rise by another 25% this year," said Bloc Quebecois MP Claude Bachand.
"Fuel consumption varies according to cruising speed and weather conditions, but in a visit on the frigate HMCS Winnipeg I was told it costs $25,000 in gas per day," said Bachand.
At $13.6 million for fuel, the HMCS Algonquin was the costliest to sail between 2005 and 2007.
The frigate HMCS Vancouver took second place at $9.8 million and the auxiliary oil replenishment (AOP) vessel HMCS Protecteur ranked third at $6.9 million, even though she has been inactive for a good part of 2006.
The Protecteur and the HMCS Preserver sailed 62 and 52 days, respectively, a very minor performance for the only two auxiliary oil replenishing (AOR) ships in the navy.
"The number of days at sea of the AORs is very limited. This tells me they were not deployed in the major fleet exercises," said Statham.
Stephen Priestley, a researcher at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, also points out the navy has major difficulty recruiting and keeping seamen, which creates a shortage of qualified personnel.
Statham said many vessels were docked between January and March, usually a slow period because of bad weather, which is the time when sections of the fleet normally participate in exercises with allies in the Caribbean.
Those exercises did not occur in 2007.
"This lack of training will reduce our operational capacity" and, as with any other line of work, you must practise to keep your skills sharp, said Statham.
Frigate HMCS Toronto was the busiest ship in the navy in 2007 with a total of 179 days at sea, including a long mission in the Middle East.
Frigates HMCS Charlottetown, HMCS Halifax, HMCS St. John's and HMCS Vancouver each spent about 100 days at sea in 2007.