Irving Shipbuilding invites international staff to Halifax for its latest ship test

·4 min read
The future HMCS Margaret Brooke floats alongside the Irving Shipbuilding yard, awaiting its first sea trial, starting this week. (Brett Ruskin/CBC - image credit)
The future HMCS Margaret Brooke floats alongside the Irving Shipbuilding yard, awaiting its first sea trial, starting this week. (Brett Ruskin/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotians under lockdown face fines for leaving their own communities as the province battles an aggressive third wave of COVID-19 that has shuttered schools and businesses while new case numbers reach unprecedented highs.

But employees and contractors of Irving Shipbuilding are arriving from around the world in Halifax — which lies in the epicentre of the current outbreak — for the company's latest round of at-sea testing.

"Restaurants in this province are closed," a source familiar with the sailing told CBC News on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the media.

"How can we have 78-odd people eating in a cafeteria on the ship?"

Testing the ship's systems

The future HMCS Margaret Brooke is the second Arctic and offshore patrol ship off the assembly line in Halifax.

The ship's first sea trial is scheduled to begin Thursday, with 78 passengers aboard from at least eight different companies whose employees come from as many as five different countries.

A portion of the vessel's passenger manifest for the sailing scheduled for May 6.
A portion of the vessel's passenger manifest for the sailing scheduled for May 6.(Contributed. Names blurred by CBC News for privacy.)

Representatives from each type of contractor, including propulsion, navigation, communications and weaponry, all gather aboard to see how the systems work together so that any issues can be fixed before the ship is delivered to the military.

CBC News spoke to sources familiar with the sailing plan and obtained a copy of the ship's passenger manifest and a list of the company's COVID-19 precautions.

Workers did not quarantine, says source

One source said workers have arrived from Ontario, Quebec, the United States and Scotland. The source said workers did not self-isolate upon their arrival in Canada, adding that one "flew in last week."

Other workers are possibly coming from Germany and Poland, based on matching their names and employment details with the home listed on their social media accounts.

A list of precautions for the ship's crew says "physical distancing shall be maintained throughout the sea trial where feasible."

All personnel will complete a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken. Rapid testing will be available before the ship's departure.

The document also outlines increased sanitation efforts and mandatory masking when moving through communal areas.

All out-of-province workers are expected to follow provincial health guidelines when not in their designated work area. They must take their breaks and eat their meals in their cabins.

Signs or tags will indicate who is exempt from the mandatory 14-day isolation period.

Irving travel exemptions revoked last year

As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia had 1,060 active cases of COVID-19. Of the 153 new cases reported, 139 were in the central zone, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Last July, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health revoked travel exemptions for Irving Shipbuilding after shipyard employees raised concerns about company executives flying between Canada and the U.S. without self-isolating.

Provincial officials said Tuesday those exemptions remain revoked.

Irving Shipyard, with the future HMCS Margaret Brooke awaiting its sea trial this week.
Irving Shipyard, with the future HMCS Margaret Brooke awaiting its sea trial this week.(Brett Ruskin/CBC)

But Irving Shipbuilding has applied to have five other staff members enter the province. To be approved, an applicant must show the work being done is urgent, that it relates to critical infrastructure, and that no other person in Atlantic Canada can do the job.

"At this time, two have been approved," said Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson for the provincial government.

"One for an international traveller who is completing their 14-day self-quarantined period before starting work. The second is for a domestic traveller and the appropriate COVID-19 safety protocols are in place."

Health, safety 'highest priority,' says Irving

It's unclear how many workers have arrived from outside Nova Scotia to board the ship and under what authority they entered the region.

In response to CBC News questions, Irving Shipbuilding issued a statement saying that it is following directives from Nova Scotia Health to "safeguard our employees."

"The health and safety of our employees is our highest priority," wrote Mary Keith, vice-president of communications for J.D. Irving Ltd.

"Along with [Nova Scotia Health], we are also working closely with our joint occupational health and safety committee, which includes members from both our union and salaried workforce and together have undertaken additional protocols."

Health authority officials confirmed to CBC News that it's the provincial government that approves or denies entry for workers.

The future HMCS Margaret Brooke is scheduled to return to Halifax on Sunday following its sea trial.

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