The champagne bottle was sent careening towards the side of the Atlantic Kestrel and, with a loud crack, the ship was imbued with the promise of safe journeys and happy returns.
The christening of the new, 85-metre-long supply and service vessel was held in St. John’s harbour late Thursday morning.
The Atlantic Kestrel will be an addition to the fleet of Atlantic Towing, creating 24 new jobs in the province’s oil and gas supply and service sector.
Captain Danny Carter, out of Port aux Basques, has already been named to the top job.
Carter has worked about 17 years in the offshore oil industry, but said he has actually been going back and forth to sea for work about 27 years.
“Actually the sister ship you see out here, the Atlantic Osprey, that was my last command,” he told The Telegram, giving a nod from his place on the waterfront out towards the Osprey — a smaller, sister ship to the Kestrel.
The Osprey was strategically parked in the middle of the harbour, adding to the backdrop for the cameras.
Even with his experience and a brand new vessel, Carter said safe voyages to and from Newfoundland’s offshore require attention at the helm.
“It’s obviously a lot of responsibility, not only for yourself, your concern of course is first for your crew and then for your ship and then everything else that’s outside of that,” he said.
“It is a demanding job and being away from your family is certainly a challenge. It’s not something that everybody would do.”
A formal event preceded the christening of the Kestrel.
“We pray for the seafarers in their daily work, for their safety as they face the dangers of their calling and for their families during long periods of separation, loneliness and anxiety,” said Rev. Josiah Noel of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, leading a prayer and offering a blessing during the gathering.
As the prayer was spoken, two seafaring workers could be seen in orange jumpsuits and white hard hats on the deck of the Atlantic Osprey.
From the deck of their ship, the crew members were watching the event across the way — inside the heated, white tent on the harbourfront.
The red carpet was rolled out for the ceremony for the Kestrel, though snow soon coated it white. The guest list included Jim Irving, co-chief executive officer of J.D. Irving Ltd., who briefly took to the podium inside the tent.
“You know, over 60 years ago my grandfather K.C. Irving came to Newfoundland to start and develop his oil business over here, for the distribution side. And since that time, we’ve been able to grow the business with great people,” he said.
With trucking, construction, engineering, retail and offshore marine service businesses, Irving companies now employ more than 1,100 people in the province — 170 with Atlantic Towing.
“We’re growing our businesses here as a company and we’re very pleased to be able to do so.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale also spoke, noting the high risk associated with getting an oil industry business up and running.
The premier said Newfoundland and Labrador has managed to develop, despite the risk, a world-class oil and gas service and supply sector.
“We’ve achieved a nice balance where there’s benefits for everybody,” she said of the industry locally.
“So this is pretty exciting, you know, to have state-of-the art infrastructure — particularly in terms of safety — for our people working in such a harsh environment. But it also speaks to making sure that we’re efficiently developing our resources, that we’re using all of the latest technologies, and so you know we’ve got to get the last barrel of oil out of there and that requires investments like this in infrastructure and technology.”
Safety was top of Carter’s mind when he spoke with The Telegram.
The ship’s captain took half a heartbeat to recall, when asked, a time he was in a tight spot far from home.
“We were on our way to Louisiana last year and we got hit by a rogue wave and pushed in the bow door and we started taking on water and what not. But thanks to the quick action of the crew, we were able to rectify the problem and continued on safely,” he said.
Carter said the design of the Kestrel — including its ice class — will benefit his upcoming service runs locally, first for Statoil, then under a contract for ExxonMobil.
The cost of the new ship is not being released.