By: Tom Ayers, The Chronicle Herald
A new naval supply ship lost power in Halifax Harbour last week just ahead of a winter storm that packed nearly 80 kilometre-per-hour winds at the dockyard and gusts that exceeded 100 km/h elsewhere in the province.
The MV Asterix, a large former commercial container ship that has been converted into an interim auxiliary naval replenishment vessel, arrived in Halifax late last month and will be leased to the Royal Canadian Navy once it passes sea trials.
With the storm coming and the Asterix tied up at the pier next to the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, the harbour authority asked the ship’s owners to move its berth up the harbour, said Spencer Fraser, CEO of Federal Fleet Services, the company that refurbished the vessel.
The ship was accompanied by tugboats, as usual, he said, and after the power went out, an extra tug was called in just as a precaution.
“The reason we moved berths was I guess it was too exposed and they don’t want to suffer damage to the jetty with the ship knocking in, so the ship was in fact moved before the storm approached,” Fraser told The Herald.
“There was a power blackout ... a sensor on the lube-oil system failed on the power generation, but the emergency power generation kicked in as required, and the extra tug was kept there just because of the pending storm and sorting out the sensor problem, which has been solved.
“We did that and we’ve subsequently done more harbour moves in the harbour. We’re now tied up at the navy dockyard at jetty November Bravo.
“So all systems worked. There was a failure of a sensor and then the backup systems worked as engineered. There was no damage to the ship, no storm damage, no cost to us other than standard repair.”
Fraser declined to discuss financial issues, but said there was no extra cost because the large ship always requires tugboats to manoeuvre around the harbour.
“It’s a new ship and it’s new to the Halifax Port Authority so everyone’s being extra cautious and professionalism came through,” he said.
Ken Hansen, a retired navy commander and defence consultant, said finding a faulty sensor is a common aspect of sea trials before a ship goes into service.
And lubricating oil is a critical component of a ship’s mechanical operations, so running drills related to the lube-oil would be expected, he said.
“Lube-oil failures are a very common thing to practise and the engineering staff have to take action so that they can determine whether or not it’s a faulty sensor or quickly shut down,” Hansen said.
“Lubricating oil is vital. It’s one of those real, honest-to-God emergencies that happen in a ship, because if the engine or the transmission runs dry, you can very quickly end up with a catastrophic failure.”
However, he said, the incident with the Asterix sounds like it was fixed right away and was not serious.
“It’s like cars,” Hansen said. “Cars are the same. In fact, I’ve got a faulty engine light in my car right now, and I know it’s a sensor, because all the other indications — running temperature, fuel efficiency, power response, all that stuff — is normal, so we don’t pay any attention.”
As an auxiliary naval replenishment vessel, the Asterix will provide the navy with fuel, cargo, ammunition, a floating hospital, a platform for two helicopters and quarters for humanitarian and rescue operations.
It will be leased to the federal government for five years at a cost of about $700 million, with an option to renew for an additional five years, while another firm builds new replacement ships for the navy.
The Asterix is currently crewed with a mix of 36 civilian and 114 Canadian Forces personnel and is set to run through sea trials this month.
Fraser said he expects the navy will put the ship into service in February.