HALIFAX -- An important milestone for the Irving Shipyard in Halifax and Canada's shipbuilding strategy is arriving soon.

On Friday, the East Coast shipyard is set to deliver the first of the new offshore Arctic patrol ships to the Royal Canadian Navy – about five years after the program began.

At 103 metres long, 19 metres wide and 6,615 tonnes, Harry DeWolf is the largest ship built for the Royal Canadian Navy in 50 years. It is the first of six ships destined for the navy from the Irving Shipyard, with two more expected for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Long Journey to Completion

Harry DeWolf is almost two years behind schedule, with some of the delay being blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. Operations at the Irving Shipyard were shut down for over three months while the company implemented new protocols to deal with the coronavirus. No cases of COVID-19 were reported among shipyard workers.

Speaking to CTV News Thursday, Irving Shipyard president, Kevin McCoy, said it has been a long journey to re-establish shipbuilding on a large scale here in Canada.

"The ship is going to be, I would say, a jack-of-all-trades for the Canadian navy," McCoy said. "Everything from persistent offshore Maritime surveillance to patrols in the Arctic, to even humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the homeland."

First of Many

The contract for the six Arctic patrol vessels is pegged at $3.5-billion under Ottawa's national shipbuilding strategy. An additional 15 ships will be built by Irving Shipyard to replace the navy's 12 frigates and three recently retired destroyers at an estimated cost of $60 billion. Construction of those were set to begin in 2023, but McCoy says that date could be pushed back due to the pandemic.

In May 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to spend an additional $15.7 billion for 18 Canadian Coast Guard ships, including two additional Arctic patrol vessels from Irving. Seaspan Shipbuilding in Vancouver will build the rest; as well as four science vessels for the coast guard and two naval support ships.

Speaking further of the delay in completing the Harry DeWolf and her sister ships, McCoy said, worldwide, it's challenging to build any new class of ship.

"We had to not only build a new class of ship; but also re-establish an entire industry in Canada," said McCoy. "…hire new people, train new people. We had to put $400 million worth of infrastructure in –we've learned a tremendous amount."

Time and Money

McCoy expects the timeline for the remaining ships coming off the line to be faster.

As for cost, McCoy said the Harry DeWolf and the remaining ships will be built within budget.

"This ship, all in, about $500 million dollars, with the follow on ships considerably less," said McCoy.

The next ship will be off the line and ready for delivery in the spring of 2021.

Fully Functional

In terms of the function of the vessels, they will conduct surveillance operations throughout Canada's waters. They will operate in the Arctic between June and October and are capable of operating in first-year ice of 120-centimetre thickness.

The ships can assist in anti-smuggling and anti-piracy operations. Depending on mission requirements, it can accommodate small utility aircraft up to the new Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopter.

Additionally, the ships can carry shipping containers, underwater survey equipment, or landing craft. The ship is equipped with a 20-tonne crane, providing self-load and unload capability. In order to provide rapid mobility on land or ice, the ship has a bay for specialized vehicles such as pickup trucks, ATVs, and snowmobiles.

The ship can hold a crew of 65, with an additional 20 people, and can sustain crews at sea for four months.

Meanwhile, Friday's handover ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. at Her Majesty's Canadian Dockyard in Halifax.

With files from The Canadian Press