Editorial: B.C.’s marine technology course correction

The mid-March announcement from Seaspan Shipyards and the University of British Columbia (UBC) regarding a new faculty position focused on marine technology is something B.C. and its economy needs more of: different businesses partnering in mutually beneficial initiatives.

In the Seaspan-UBC example, we have a leading Canadian shipbuilding company and a major university pooling business and intellectual resources to cultivate the talent and expertise needed to help the country’s shipbuilders navigate their way through technological disruption in the multibillion-dollar marine transportation sector. 

The world’s marine cargo Goliath is faced with a massive makeover, whether it likes it or not. Decarbonization and digitization of a supply chain that currently moves more than 80% of goods worldwide are two of the major makeover pieces in play. They come with huge price tags. But far more than money is required here. 

The expertise, innovation and organization for incorporating low-to- no-carbon fuels and digital data systems all along the ocean carrier supply chain need to be developed and executed by astute management and a highly educated and well-resourced workforce. 

Seaspan’s $1 million funding for UBC’s new faculty chair is one small contribution to cultivating that expertise in B.C. The province has a deep history of shipping experience. It is home to an impressive cohort of world-class shipping companies. But, at various times, it has also been a top shipbuilder. 

That expertise was dealt a serious blow in 1990 when the federal Conservative government scuppered plans to build Canada’s $500 million Polar 8 icebreaker in B.C. The province’s shipbuilding industry ran aground thereafter, and the talent upon which it depends departed for jobs in regions that supported marine technology development. 

Seaspan, in its initiative with a world-class university like UBC, is helping to re-establish B.C.’s shipbuilding expertise and with it create a hub for the highly skilled and lucrative jobs the industry supports.