For just a moment, when the net-wrapped bottle smashed against the hull, the air smelled of wine.
It was champagne, “the finest,” said a wide-smiling David Porter, the new president of McKeil Newfoundland and Labrador.
The local representative of Hamilton-based McKeil Marine Ltd., Porter is facilitating the company’s ongoing push to gain ground, and contracts, in this province and establish itself on the list of local go-tos for marine transportation and certain offshore services.
McKeil Marine Ltd. already boasts 70 per cent of its sailing crew as being from this province, benefiting from the knowledge of seafaring Newfoundlanders since its founding 55 years ago.
On Tuesday, on the St. John’s waterfront, Porter and parent company leaders were out in the sun for a smashing time — christening the multi-purpose offshore vessel Blain M.
The vessel was purchased by the company in the fall of 2011 and a retrofit was completed to get the then-idle, former coast guard vessel back up to snuff. Its first assignment, with a nine-man crew, will be as a seismic chase vessel off Newfoundland and Labrador — literally chasing away marine traffic that might otherwise sail into the path of a comparatively slow-moving seismic survey ship.
The christening Tuesday doubled as a celebration of the decision to increase McKeil Marine’s presence in the province.
“We’re really making more of a commitment to operating here on a full-time basis,” said chairman
“We see Newfoundland becoming sort of our beachhead, so-to-speak, for full-time operations and being able to service our vessels, prepare our vessels, for all the work we’re doing on the East Coast and Labrador, as well as up into the Eastern Arctic,”McKeil said
Already with an office in St. John’s, McKeil said the company is now searching for a location to establish a “full-time base” on the water, providing it with a site within Newfoundland and Labrador to service its vessels.
“I would think that within the next six months we will find the right location to acquire a facility to be able to look after our vessels, repair them, maintain them and look after our existing fleet and, the more we add, being able to take care of that fleet as well,” he said.
The corporate office of McKeil Newfoundland and Labrador is located at 49 Elizabeth Ave. in St. John’s.
“What we require (in the province) will evolve. Right now, we’re doing all of the barging work for the Vale Long Harbour project and so ... we have guys out there, working out of trailers,” said McKeil Marine president Steve Fletcher.
McKeil has workers in Argentia, where tugs await assignment to barges to and from the Vale worksite.
“Another one of the next big ones will probably be Hebron and Bull Arm and, depending what we get out of that project, we’ll probably have on-site representation there, but we’ll still have an office in St. John’s,” Fletcher said.
There is no guarantee of success in pursuing contracts under the Hebron project, Fletcher admitted, but the company will be seeking contracts. “We’re working hard at it and we think we’ve got a lot of value we can add to Hebron,” he said.
The plan is to supplement major project work with short-term work in other areas, for example the offshore seismic chase work of the newly christened Blain M.
“I think there’s lots of opportunity around Newfoundland, for the transportation side of our business, moving boats to and from Newfoundland. And for the projects that are happening here in Labrador and even for the Eastern Arctic ... this would be a great base to work from to support projects in the Arctic, too,” he said.