Drinking water deemed unsafe aboard new Arctic patrol ships
The Royal Canadian Navy is making bottled water available to drink for seafarers aboard Canada’s new Arctic Patrol vessels after tests revealed elevated levels of lead in the vessels’ water systems.
Concerns about water quality aboard the latest fleet of Arctic patrol vessels have uncovered lead contamination in the naval vessel’s water system and was first detected on HMCS Harry DeWolf.
The Department of Defense says an investigation found fittings and valves in the water system were made from alloys that exceed lead requirements.
“Our priority is and will remain the safety of our members,” said a spokesman for the Department of Defense.
“In order to accept the ship, we have taken short- and medium-term mitigation measures, including regular water testing and supplying RCN members with bottled water on board.”
These faulty fittings have already been installed on three other naval ships recently built, including HMCS Margaret Brooke, HMCS Max Bernays and HMCS William Hall.
Halifax-based independent security and defense analyst Ken Hansen doesn’t want to downplay the problem, but says the task of bringing Canada’s shipbuilding program back to life is daunting and problems will arise – particularly with many of the processes and parts involved.
“Other than the personal health issue, I don’t see it as a threatening or dangerous issue in any way,” said Hansen, who spent 33 years in the Royal Canadian Navy. “It was identified a long time ago, but it really poses a problem in the supply chain when you start up a new production line.”
Irving Shipbuilding says it has a solution to the problem and is committed to keeping Canadian seafarers safe on the ships it builds and maintains for the Navy.
“Canada and Irving Shipbuilding have worked together to address design issues that, under certain conditions, could contribute to the degradation of potable water systems on delivered ships,” said Mary Keith, vice president of communications at Irving Shipbuilding.
Irving says it will fit the four existing ships with a new filtration system, and the four remaining ships under contract will be built with a redesigned water system that will not require a filtration system.
Hansen says such issues are to be expected given the complexity of the build and the scope of the work.
“The most complicated things humans build on Earth are warships, far more so than even spacecraft,” Hansen said. “There are hundreds of thousands of systems and subsystems in a warship.”
The federal government commissioned Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding to build eight arctic and offshore patrol vessels, six for the Department of Defense and two vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard.
Three ships have already been delivered, with a fourth, HMCS Max Bernays, scheduled for delivery in the fall.
In a statement, Conservative MP and defense critic James Bezan said the health and safety of seafarers is of paramount importance but issues like these tarnish the reputation of Canada’s armed forces.
“Issues like these add to the overall struggle to recruit and retain members of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Bezan said. “Liberals must ensure this is rectified without delay. For the past seven years, the Trudeau government has mismanaged the supply of ships. Their failures and delays are forcing our Navy to take additional risks with their existing equipment.”
The Navy says the water issues were first discovered in 2021. At this time HMCS Harry DeWolf and HMCS Margaret Brooke are the only ships that were operational.