VANCOUVER – (Reuters) – Hundreds of construction workers in booming northern British Columbia will take up residence this week in unique digs on board a cruise ferry revamped into a floating luxury hotel.
The aging ship will help relieve a housing shortage in one busy Canadian port town already bursting ahead of a promised energy boom that could last more than a decade.
The Silja Festival – a Baltic ferry made over as the Delta Spirit Lodge – will spend at least a year docked outside Kitimat, British Columbia, where it will provide housing for about 600 workers in town for Rio Tinto Alcan’s $3.3 billion smelter-upgrade project, which is expected to wrap up in 2015.
After that, the ship’s owners hope more contracts will float their way as major energy companies like Chevron Corp, Petronas and Royal Dutch Shell push ahead with proposed liquefied natural gas export (LNG) projects along Canada’s Pacific coast.
“This kind of investment would never occur without the kind of mega-opportunities that are growing in the Pacific Northwest,” said Andrew Purdy, vice president of Bridgemans Services Ltd, the privately held company behind the hotel. “We saw the opportunity and we put it all together, but it was effectively driven by industry.”
Despite the “No Vacancy” signs popping up all over town, the endeavor is risky. Bridgemans declined to say how much it is making from its first job, but it has already spent more than C$4 million ($3.6 million) to import and upgrade the ship, with further improvements planned. It has no contract after work wraps up at the Rio smelter.
But if just four major LNG projects go ahead, roughly 15,000 extra beds will be needed in coastal northern British Columbia at peak construction, according to a report from National Bank Financial.
For employers, offering free top-end accommodations complete with a basketball court, a theater, a fine-dining room that serves three hearty meals a day and a captain’s lounge for relaxing may be a draw in a very competitive labor market.
“We always go back to what our client wants. They want to build a platform that attracts and retains the best workers,” said Purdy.
SCRAMBLING FOR SKILLED LABOR
The North American energy industry is booming. Yet as companies make new investments, there are doubts the sector will be able to find and keep the employees needed to complete all the potential projects.
Speaking at an event earlier this year, British Columbia’s energy and mines minister, Bill Bennett, said the province will need to import workers from other provinces and abroad.
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