But faced with the urgent requirement to secure an at-sea resupply and refueling capability for its Navy, the Canadian government announced Nov. 30 it had no choice but to proceed with the CAN $700 million (US $510 million) project.
Public Services Minister Judy Foote and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government signed a contract with Chantier Davie Shipyards of Levis, Quebec, for what is being called an interim auxiliary oil replenishment ship.
The ship will fill the gap left by the retirement earlier this year of the Canadian Navy's last two resupply-refueling vessels. Those ship provided food, water, medical services and fuel to warships at sea.
"If we restarted this initiative by launching a competition, we would lose precious time in providing the Navy with a critical refueling and naval support capability," Foote and Sajjan noted in a statement.
The US-owned Seaspan Shipyards of Vancouver, BC, also entered the fray, complaining about the lack of competition and noting that it, too, had a more cost-effective proposal.
Foote and Sajjan suggested in their statement that since the process with Chantier Davie was at an advanced stage, they had little choice but to proceed.
Chantier Davie had already purchased the container ship Asterix and the vessel was now in the firm's shipyard to be converted into a resupply ship. The firm had already hired several hundred employees for the project.
"After amassing the facts and carefully deliberating, the government of Canada determined that proceeding is the most viable course of action," they added.
Chantier Davie officials expect it will take about 18 months to convert the Asterix into a refueling ship. The firm and its partners have created Project Resolve, which will see the resupply service in place for the Royal Canadian Navy by the fall of 2017.
Spencer Fraser, who heads Project Resolve, said the deal is the best one for Canada. "It confirms that our solution had the greatest merits to meet the [Royal Canadian Navy's] urgent operational needs," he added.
"If the government decides to add a second interim ship so that the Canadian Navy can have refueling capability on both the East and West coasts, we would hope that our proposal would be given careful consideration," he said.
The Chantier Davie deal is the first time that a commercial vessel is to be used to conduct such operations, says Canadian defense analyst Martin Shadwick.
Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire also pointed out the Asterix would allow the Navy's personnel to maintain their skills in key areas until Seaspan's Joint Support Ships arrive. The first ship is expected to be in the water in 2020. The Asterix would be used until the arrival of the second Joint Support Ship in 2021, she added.
In the summer, Canada arranged with Chile's Navy to provide a resupply ship on the west coast.
It is currently negotiating a similar arrangement for next year with Spain's Navy.
David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.