Seaspan Preps for $8B Contract

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Scottish Shipyard Exec Graeme Thomson Joins Seaspan as it preps for $8B Navy Contract

Seaspan is an association of Canadian companies primarily involved in coastal and deep sea transportation, bunkering, ship docking/ship escort, ship repair and shipbuilding services in Western North America. Seaspan’s three shipyards are located in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia (BC), Canada. Seaspan has served a variety of customers, including the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard, with construction, conversion, repair and maintenance projects on deep sea vessels and container ships, ice breakers, ferries, tugs, fishing vessels, Arctic Class and research vessels, cruise ships, barges and yachts.
On October 19, 2011, the Canadian Federal Government announced that Seaspan was awarded the non-combat vessel portion of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). This calls for two Joint Support Ships, one Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel, three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels and one Polar Icebreaker.
While planning has already begun, construction on the new vessels won’t start until 2013. In the meantime, as part of the shipyard modernization project, over $200m worth of new and upgraded infrastructure is being built at Seaspan’s shipyards while vessel design work is being finalized. 

Enter Graeme Thomson
Four weeks into his new role as Vice President of Program Management at Seaspan, Thomson is well-positioned to meet the challenges coming his way. Formerly a Program Director at BAE Systems Surface Ships in Glasgow, Scotland, Thomson is  armed with an Electrical Engineering degree, an MBA and the experience of dealing with the UK’s Ministry of Defense as a customer.
“We’re going to be building complex ships at Seaspan, and it’s no different to the complex ships I was involved in at BAE Systems,” said Thomson. “ I tend to think the projects and challenges are very much alike–getting them to be affordable, making sure we operate with the right processes, making sure we have the management and infrastructure to stay in control.”
In addition to project management responsibilities in his role at Seaspan, Thomson is overseeing the development, integration and implementation of all the Program Management processes and toolsets needed for the NSPS project. According to Thomson, he also  is “working closely with the customer to ensure we are staying aligned at all times as we go through the various phases of shipbuilding, and that we’re consistent in our approaches and technique for program managing the vessels.” Though on the job a short time, Thomson is  impressed with the skilled and dedicated workforce, and has noticed a distinct advantage that Seaspan has, saying, “The one thing that really strikes me is the agility that Seaspan has. Looking at the type of work they do and the spread of the work they do, between the repair and construction of their own barges and repair of the tugs, to responding to the Canadian Navy or to cruise ships—it gives Seaspan a unique advantage in how to respond to the challenges that we’re about to face as we go into the NSPS contract.” According to Thomson, Seaspan’s flexibility and adaptability will be instrumental in helping surmount the inevitable growing pains that will come with new facilities and new processes.
Putting the new facilities and processes to the test, however, is one reason Thomson is looking forward to the actual building process. “The build I’m looking forward to most just now is the Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels,” he said. “And not particularly that they’re any more complex, they all have their challenges. I think what makes them interesting from my perspective is that it’s the time to fine tune and improve all the infrastructure, the site facilities, the IT, the processes, the organization, the relationships with the customer and all the controls we’ll have in place. And that’s going to be in real-time, and when we are focused on maintaining schedule and budget.”
Though Thomson is used to dealing with challenges at work, challenges as a newcomer to the city of Vancouver are something new. Finding accommodation, learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and using the correct turn of phrase are just a few of the daily tasks that suddenly seem to take a lot more effort than they did in Glasgow. Even shopping poses its challenges, says Thomson, “I don’t recognize 90% of the products. You lay on top of that what I would describe as intense and challenging days of work as I get use to working in a new organization, and I really have  a lot to keep myself occupied.”
Thomson’s experiences are being carefully documented as Seaspan continues to look at international recruits and seeks to improve its on-boarding program for newcomers. “The people at Seaspan are very keen to hear my experiences as they work to improve the program going forward,” he says.
While there may be many challenges ahead, Thomson is quick to point out that he’s standing at the doorstep of a tremendous opportunity. “The development of the shipyards in terms of creating a world-class state-of-the-art facility and the investment put into the IT infrastructure, people development and training, the organization, and growing all of that, it marries up to what appeals to me as complexity of work and challenge of work. At the same time, we’re trying to develop a strong business that’s capable of delivering what we have ahead of us, and that gives a real buzz in and of itself.”
Thomson continues, “There’s a part of participating in something that’s big for Seaspan, big for British Columbia and big for Canada—that we create a successful modern shipyard that gets respected worldwide for what it does. If this is where I end up leaving my footprint—helping shipbuilding in Vancouver, and Seaspan, be successful–and I’ve played a small part in that, then I’m delighted to do so. It’s a real honor.”

(As published in the August 2012 edition of Maritime Reporter -

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