Quotulatiousness

January 9, 2018

The ongoing financial catastrophe that is the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy

Filed under: Australia, Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ted Campbell rounds up recent discussions of the Canadian government’s farcical National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS):

There is a somewhat biased but still very useful look at the successes of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) in the Ottawa Citizen by Howie Smith who is the Past President of the Naval Association of Canada. Mr Smith is a retired Canadian naval officer who has provided consultancy services to several firms pursuing opportunities within the projects of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which is why his article is somewhat biased. Mr Smith is responding to a recent report by Professor Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia, who is also a biased commentator on defence issues, which said that the NSPS “was flawed from the outset” and “According to Byers, the Liberal government should open-up the non-contractually-binding umbrella agreements with Irving and Seaspan, then cancel and restart the Canadian Surface Combatant and the Joint Support Ship procurement programs with fixed-price competitions involving completely ‘off the shelf’ designs.”

It is important, I believe, to understand why Canada needed something like the NSPS in the first place. The notion came in about the middle of the Harper government’s term in office – in around 2010. I think that two problems confronted the government:

  • The Canadian shipbuilding industry was, once again, “on the ropes;” Davie, Canada’s largest shipyard was in bankruptcy and the other yards were too reliant on government contracts; and
  • Both of the major federal fleets (the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard) were approaching “rust out,” again.

The solution to the first problem was to modernize the yards and make them internationally competitive … but that would cost money and private investment money is scarce ~ especially for shipbuilding, plus under the international trade rules to which Canada has agreed direct government subsidies to commercial shipyards are prohibited. The solution to shipyards that are too reliant on government contracts was ~ wait for it ~ another big government contract that would allow them to modernize themselves.

That indirect government subsidy is perfectly legal if the contracts are for navy and coast guard ships because “national security” is a big loophole in international trade law.

Both Professor Byers and Mr Smith have some good points … but neither is 100% correct. The NSPS was and remains a sound idea … the costs, which is the real crux of Professor Byers’ complaint, are not relevant because the defence and coast guard budgets are being (mis)used for industrial development ~ those are not the real costs of warships: they are the real costs of warships PLUS the cost of yard modernization.

The new surface combatant project is, as Mr Smith says, the biggest and costliest peacetime military procurement ever … and the NSPS is working just about a well as any “system” would at bringing it to fruition. At some point in the future a government will have to decide if Canada gets fewer ships than it needs or spends more more money than it wants … or, most likely, both.

That last sentence has always been the most likely outcome: the RCN will get fewer ships than it needs, and those ships will be significantly more expensive per hull than they need to be. The need for modern naval vessels isn’t the top priority … it’s probably not even in the top three priorities as far as the government is concerned (directing money to the “right” recipients, pandering to provincial sensibilities, lots of photo ops, and then maybe the actual needs of the RCN and CCG).

Update: Of course, it’s not like Canada is unique in the problems we have in military procurement … Australia is also struggling in a similar way:

The [Royal Australian] Navy’s program to replace the Collins Class submarines is known as SEA 1000. It involves modification of a French Barracuda Class submarine from nuclear to diesel-electric propulsion, plus other changes specific to Australia.

The 12 new submarines, to be known as Shortfin Barracudas, are intended to begin entering service in the early 2030s with construction extending to 2050. The program is estimated to cost $50 billion and will be the largest and most complex defence acquisition project in Australian history.

[…]

Then there’s the decision to build them in Australia. The Abbott government’s 2016 Defence White Paper only committed to building them in Australia if it could be done without compromising capability, cost or project schedule. That changed because of South Australian politics, and the new submarines could now be more appropriately described as the Xenophon class.

Even if all goes well, the cost of building warships in Australia will be 30 to 40 per cent more than if they were built overseas. However, the plan to build them in Adelaide at the Australian Submarine Corporation, the same group currently building the Air Warfare Destroyer, years late and a billion dollars over budget, adds to a sense of foreboding.

This follows the prize fiasco of the Collins Class submarine project. Their construction by the Australian Submarine Corporation ran years behind schedule, many millions over budget, and finally delivered a platform that the Navy has struggled to even keep operational.

And then there is the question of whether the new submarines will arrive before the Collins Class subs are retired, scheduled for 2026 to 2033. Even if delivery occurs on schedule, the first will not enter service until 2033. At best there will be one new submarine in service and a nine year gap between the retirement of the Collins Class and the introduction into service of the first six of the twelve new submarines.

Given this, the government has apparently committed an additional $15 billion to keep the 30 year old Collins submarines bobbing in the water. It’s like refurbishing a World War 2 German U-Boat for the mid-1990s.

The elements are all there for the submarine replacement program to become the procurement scandal of the century. Our Shortfin Barracudas will probably be the most expensive submarines ever built anywhere in the world.

For a lot less money, we could achieve a far more potent submarine capability. For example, off-the-shelf Japanese Soryu submarines cost only US$540 million. Modified to meet additional Navy requirements, they were quoted as costing A$750 million. If we simply bought twelve of those, the total cost to the taxpayer would be less than A$10 billion.

Equally, the existing nuclear Barracudas only cost $2 billion each, so we could get twelve of those for $24 billion.

For such an important defence capability, the government’s failure to guarantee Australia is protected by submarines is nothing less than gross negligence.

January 5, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s PR team fumbles badly with Boyle photo-op

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Late last year, the Boyle family were “rescued” from the Taliban and the Prime Minister not only met with them, but allowed some photos to be taken that quickly made their way out onto social media. Now that Joshua Boyle has been arrested for a long list of offenses, the PM is looking very bad indeed, as Chris Selley points out:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Boyle family in Ottawa, 18 December.

The supposed geniuses surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are capable of some very strange decisions. Arranging a meeting with Joshua Boyle and his family after their release from Taliban captivity, and agreeing to the Boyles photographing the smiling encounter — Joshua later tweeted out some snaps — is certainly one of them.

Boyle was arrested Tuesday and charged with a raft of offences including sexual assault and unlawful confinement, concerning events beginning immediately after the family’s return to Canada in early October. Trudeau met the Boyles on Dec. 18. Now photos of Trudeau beaming with the accused are all over the news. If PMO procedures somehow didn’t flag the investigation, that’s a serious concern. If they did and the meeting happened anyway, it’s horrendous political risk management at the very least.

Indeed, these were hardly the first red flags. The PMO argues it would agree to such a meeting with any released hostages — a very stupid policy if it exists, because the Boyles aren’t quite any released hostages. When the Taliban nabbed Joshua and five-months-pregnant Caitlin Coleman in 2012, they were ostensibly “backpacking in Afghanistan.” The phrase dances off the tongue a bit like “scuba diving in Yemen” or “gastronomic tour of Somalia”: not inconceivable, but the Boyles will not have been surprised to learn that some in the U.S. intelligence community were suspicious. They reportedly refused an American military flight home over fears — perfectly reasonable ones, surely — that they might wind up stuck at Bagram Airfield.

But what the heck, let’s think the best of the Boyles. Sunny ways, etc. The best still involves the unpleasant matter of Joshua’s short-lived marriage to none other than Zaynab Khadr — daughter of the late Ahmed Khadr, the Egyptian-Canadian al-Qaida financier for whom Jean Chrétien famously went to bat when he was detained in Pakistan.

[…]

Unseriousness is a serious charge against Trudeau: big hat, staff photographer, few cattle. Another non-official photo released this week shows Trudeau and his Castro-worshiping brother Sacha in matching sweaters depicting the Last Supper attended by emojis, with the words Happy Birthday strung over top. In a rather over-the-top tweet, Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused the PM of “intolerance” and of “mocking Christianity” — and no question, many Canadians might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment lest it cause offence. (It was in private, of course, but it’s public now.) But many Canadians also might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment because he’s the leader of a G7 country, a serious person with a serious job that he’s taking seriously.

This touchy-feely cool-dad happy-go-lucky shtick has taken Trudeau a long, long way. I very much doubt it can take him any further. And I think the backlash, when it comes, could be legendary.

January 1, 2018

QotD: Edmonton in winter

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Winter [in Edmonton] appeals to the (decidedly narrow) ascetic side of my temperament, but right now this place is pretty Dantean — empty, forlorn, and still, all sound half-absorbed by the snow. On the days when there’s no cloud, the sunlight hits the street with a blinding chemical whiteness that makes you wonder if God is screwing around with Photoshop filters. Most days, the sun is obscured by a gray-pink gauze that leaves you uncertain what planet you’re on. Heroin has never been a popular drug here: we all already know what it’s like to be dead.

Colby Cosh, “White City”, ColbyCosh.com, 2004-10-26.

December 31, 2017

Who Invented Hawaiian Pizza?

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Today I Found Out
Published on 4 Dec 2017

In this video:

On June 8, 2017, Greek-born, Canadian-bred pizza maker Sam Panopoulos died. His career slinging pies was rather unremarkable save for one notable thing – he was the inventor of the popular, yet infamous pineapple-topped “Hawaiian Pizza,” named as such because of the brand of canned fruit he used. Loved by some and hated by others, the sweet and salty pizza is so controversial that it once triggered an argument between friendly nations. While such arguments rage on both sides of it being a delicacy or an abomination, the fact is that the Hawaiian pizza is actually not Hawaiian – it’s Canadian. Here now is the story of pizza and the man who decided to add pineapples to it.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.p…

December 22, 2017

Okay, Etobicoke drivers, now they’re just messing with your heads

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

A recently started reconstruction project of the confusing Six Points interchange will involve closing off existing access ramps and (eventually) replacing them with new ones. During construction, however, things are just insane, as this example shows:

The above map shows what the city calls its “preferred alternate route to access Bloor Street eastbound from Kipling Avenue” due to ramp closures.
Image via BlogTO.

As you can see, it involves three huge loops winding around four corners of the intersection. If the ramp weren’t closed, it would be a simple right turn from Kipling onto Bloor heading East.

“It is often said two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do,” wrote one Redditor in response to the graphic today. “In this case, seven rights make, uh, one right.”

“I don’t care what you say,” wrote another, “that ‘Alternate Route’ looks like so much fun, I might go there just to do it!”

Don’t forget your seatbelt.

December 21, 2017

Manufacturing model trains in China

Filed under: Business, Cancon, China, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Jason Shron (who glories in living the “hoser” stereotype) runs a small Canadian company that manufactures 1:87 scale model trains, doing the majority of the actual manufacturing in China. Even there, rising standards of living mean that small companies like Rapido Trains need to be on the lookout for ways to economize, as illustrated in this short video:

December 18, 2017

Repost – Induced aversion to a particular Christmas song

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Gaming, Media, Personal — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.

It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Back in the early 1980’s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameway’s Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. “Tape”.

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50’s stuff (White Christmas and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned Drummer Boy song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from snatching boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It’s been over 20 years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

The Canadian | Mighty Trains

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Quest TV
Published on 19 Mar 2017

The Canadian is VIA Rail’s iconic passenger train, which travels between Vancouver’s Central Station and Toronto’s Union Station on a three-day, four-night journey. Mighty Trains takes the 4,466km journey, which traverses much of the country, through the Rocky Mountains, Prairies, boreal forest and lakes of Northern Ontario.

December 16, 2017

Why not try a truly independent “independent counsel”?

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jay Currie suggests someone the US government could bring in to investigate the whole “deep state” mess who would not be in any way tainted by past contacts or entanglements:

The American mess is deep and sordid and, frankly, needs to be cleaned up. But by who?

The fact is that virtually any special counsel appointed by the DOJ will be tainted one way or another. And so, apparently, will investigators drawn from the FBI. It is a mess but it also needs to be resolved.

So, a friendly suggestion from Canada.

Our deeply respected, longest serving, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is retiring at the end of the year. Beverly McLaughlin, while I disagree with some of her opinions, is tough, fair-minded and very, very, smart. By the nature of her position, she is “read in” on intelligence and security cleared. She’ll be bombarded with job offers but, if asked nicely, might be willing to lead an investigation into the whole ball of wax which the 2016 American election created. Russians, Hilly’s server and how it was dealt with by the FBI, Lynch on the tarmac with Bill, Mueller, Comely: the whole thing.

But Bev is not enough. Sending a small detachment of the RCMP – white collar and intelligence – with her, with really serious investigative powers, would get the whole mess cleared up in six months. (The scarlet tunics would be optional but would make great tv as they raided offices and homes of the swamp creatures.) McLaughlin would not proffer charges, rather she would write a report and recommend such charges as arise.

Better still, the Chief Justice and the Horsemen would be paid for – independently – by the Canadian government with a bill to be presented to our American cousins at the end of the investigation.

Sometimes the mess is so big you need an independent professional to clean it up. This is one of those times.

December 14, 2017

Canadian politicians and police chiefs still struggling with notion of “legal” marijuana

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The federal government will legalize the use of marijuana across Canada in July, 2018. You’d think that would be plenty of time for provincial, regional, and municipal governments and police forces to make adequate changes for the newly legal product, right? No, this is Canada, the home of the overblown local concern:

December 9, 2017

The Trudeau sideshow in China

Filed under: Cancon, China, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh on figuring out why Justin Trudeau’s trip to China didn’t end in the glory he and his handlers were clearly anticipating:

My favourite part of the fair has always been the sideshow. And when it comes to Justin Trudeau’s official visit to China, the sideshow definitely turned out to be the most interesting part of the proceedings. Interpreting the outcome of the visit involves a certain amount of old-fashioned Kremlinology, applied to both sides, but it seems fairly clear that Trudeau was gulled into providing Chinese leadership with some celebrity glamour in exchange for a big pile of nothing on Chinese-Canadian trade.

He came to China with hopes for progress on a future trade deal that would involve China accepting new labour, gender, and environment standards. But he collided with the newly aggressive Xi Jinping doctrine — a change in the official Chinese mood that insists on the country’s superpower status. China-watchers know that over the past year, in a process that culminated at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October, China has become more explicit, and more chauvinist, in claiming to pursue an independent, indigenous alternative model of economic and social progress.

[…]

Western commentators on China have, for a long time, had an implicit vision of a re-emerging bipolar world, with China in the old place of Russia as an ideological challenger to Western democracies. Xi is taking them at their word. China’s aspirations are no longer to follow or imitate the West, but to out-compete it on its own terms, without any of the untidy, politically dis-unifying elements of Western life — independent universities, newspapers that aren’t trash, multiple political parties, and the like.

Given this background, Trudeau arguably arrived in China at exactly the wrong moment. Formal talks on a China-Canada free trade agreement would have been the first ever between China and a G7 country. It turned out that there was more value for Xi in slapping the hand of friendship. The Global Times, an organ of the party’s People’s Daily newspaper network, published a cranky English-language editorial in the midst of Trudeau’s visit.

The editorial attacked the “superiority and narcissism” of Canadian newspapers, as an alternative to jabbing the prime ministerial guest in the eye personally. But it is easy enough to read between the lines. “Trade between China and Canada is mutually beneficial, more significant than the ideology upon which the latter’s media has been focusing,” wrote the tabloid’s editor, Hu Xijin. “When Canada imports a pair of shoes from China, will Canada ask how much democracy and human rights are reflected in those shoes?”

If Trudeau had been hoping to wipe away memories of his embarrassing stunt at the TPP negotiations by a Pierre-Trudeau-like Chinese breakthrough, the Chinese government clearly saw him coming a few thousand miles away and ensured that no such PR coup would be allowed.

The unique culture that is Quebec

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Wells on the latest blow struck in the never-ending battle against the English language in La Belle Province:

This is the thing about language politics in Montreal. It’s a game with many participants but few spectators. It’s addictive fun to play and unbearable to watch. If you’re not arguing about the state of the fragile equilibrium — standoff? Cold war? — between the local francophone majority and the continental anglophone majority, then you’re just living your life. And living your life is almost always very different from whatever the current argument is about.

The latest argument is so stupid I have avoided it for a week. Probably you have heard anyway. Quebec’s National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution urging merchants to greet customers with a hearty “bonjour! The unstated subtext was that they should stop there and not add an incriminating “Hi!” in English. In fact, in the motion’s original wording, as presented by the Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée, it wasn’t even unstated. The frequent use of “Bonjour-hi” by Montreal merchants was described as an “irritant,” until Quebec premier Philippe Couillard sat down with Lisée and haggled over the motion, line by line, eventually removing the bit about “hi” being an irritant.

Thus amended — essentially, Say ‘bonjour!’ to customers, because the English language is… well, you know — the motion was adapted unanimously by the National Assembly.

Unanimous motions of the National Assembly are believed, by its members and by about three staffers at Le Devoir, to carry a particular weight, because they mark occasions when the representatives of the Québécois nation put aside their differences to speak with one voice in sacred defence of the besieged descendants of France on American soil. Unfortunately, the rush of passing such a motion must be intense to the point of addiction because for many years now, the members of the National Assembly have been passing so many that by now the effect is ruined.

Here is a partial list of unanimous motions going back to 1960, including 15 so far this year alone. Five in November. On Nov. 14, the representatives of the Québécois nation put aside their differences long enough to demand a share of federal subsidies for electric-car recharging stations proportional to Quebec’s share of Canada-wide electric car sales. Come on. I’m a big fan of the National Assembly, but these days, it’s precisely at its most solemn moments that it’s the biggest farce.

December 8, 2017

Halifax Explosion – Peace in the East? | THE GREAT WAR Week 176

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military, Russia, WW1 — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 7 Dec 2017

This week in the Great War, we see some action in Italy and none at all in Russia – the peace negotiations are well underway. The Allied Supreme War Council meets for the first time as the Battle of Cambrai comes to a close. Two ships collide in Nova Scotia resulting in a deadly explosion.

December 6, 2017

The RCN doesn’t need a second supply ship, says Transport Minister Garneau

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Pugliese on the latest military inanity from the federal government:

Pre-completion illustrations of the Resolve Class AOR conversion of MV Asterix

Politicians and unions in Quebec are turning up the heat on the Liberal government, questioning why Davie shipyards in the province isn’t getting any more work from the federal government. Davie converted a commercial container ship into a supply vessel for the Royal Canadian Navy. It was on time and on budget. The ship, the Asterix, goes into service early next year and under the agreement will be leased to the RCN.

Davie is ready to quickly convert another vessel into a supply ship.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has said thanks but no thanks.

Transport Minister, and former navy officer, Marc Garneau said the federal government doesn’t need another supply ship.
” We cannot artificially create a need for something that doesn’t exist,” he told reporters on the weekend.

An artificial need?

Seaspan shipyards in Vancouver and the Department of National Defence don’t project the first Joint Support Ship (being built by Seaspan) arriving until early 2021. But that ship would still have to undergo testing, etc. So, let’s say that the first JSS is ready for operations by the end of 2021.

That means that the RCN will have one supply ship to support its fleets operating on two coasts. How is that going to work?

December 5, 2017

The Halifax explosion of 6 December, 1917

Filed under: Cancon, History, WW1 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s been called one of the largest man-made non-nuclear explosions and it destroyed large parts of the City of Halifax, when the SS Mont Blanc ran aground and exploded following a collision in the Narrows between Halifax and Dartmouth with the chartered Belgian Relief ship SS Imo. Nearly two thousand people were killed and thousands more injured in the blast.

A view of the Halifax waterfront shortly after the explosion on the morning of 6 December, 1917
Image via Wikimedia.

The Mont Blanc was built in 1899 in Middlesbrough, England, and at the time of the explosion was owned by Cie Generale Transatlantique with a St. Nazaire registration. As far as I’m aware there is only one photo of the ship and it shows the stern of the vessel when she was sailing under a Marseilles registration:

SS Mont Blanc in 1900 in Halifax.
Photo via the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Mont Blanc had left New York harbour with a full load of flammable and explosive cargo (including TNT, picric acid, benzol aviation fuel additive, and guncotton) intended for the battlefront in western Europe on the first, and just missed being allowed inside the anti-submarine netting protecting the entrance to the harbour on the evening of the fifth, being forced to wait outside until morning. As soon as the harbour guard allowed passage, the Mont Blanc followed another freighter (believed to be the SS Clara, but identified only as “the green American tramp steamer” in the inquiry) through the barrier and approached the narrows.

As the Mont Blanc made her way up toward the Bedford Basin, the Imo started in the opposite direction headed toward the harbour mouth. The Clara was sailing up the Halifax side of the channel, contrary to harbour rules, so the Imo had to swing over toward the Dartmouth side to avoid the Clara, and then further to the wrong side of the Narrows to avoid the Stella Maris, a tug moving barges around the harbour. In the low visibility, Imo‘s captain and pilot were unaware that another ship was following the Clara so closely and on the correct side of the channel.

According to the accepted “rules of the road”, in this situation the first ship to signal has the right of way and the other ship is expected to defer to the movement of the first ship. Mont Blanc‘s pilot had the ship’s whistle blown once, to indicate their priority, but the Imo replied with two whistles indicating that they did not intend to allow Mont Blanc‘s right of way. At first sighting, the two ships were already within a mile of one another and within the narrowest point of the harbour, which restricted the ability of the Mont Blanc to manouvre. The captain ordered the engines stopped and to steer closer to the Dartmouth side of the channel (with his delicate and explosive cargo, he didn’t want to run the risk of going aground).

Imo was carrying no cargo on this portion of her journey, which meant the propellers were partially out of the water, making the ship much less handy to steer. As the two ships approached, with the ships on approximately parallel courses, the Imo‘s captain ordered the engines to reverse, which caused Imo to swing to starboard (right) and impact the starboard side of the Mont Blanc at 8:45am. The collision did not do fatal structural damage to either ship, but it broke open some of the benzol containers on the deck and the spilled liquid ran down the side of the Mont Blanc, producing a flammable vapour.

The immediate impact of the explosion covered 325 acres, and windows were broken more than 50 miles away.
Image from http://www.halifaxexplosion.org/explosion2.html

As the Imo‘s engines began to pull the ship back, friction between the two hulls ignited the benzol fumes, which then spread the fire up the hull and onto the foredeck, preventing any effective fire-fighting on the part of the Mont Blanc‘s crew. With no hope of preventing an explosion, the crew abandoned ship and rowed away from the stricken Mont Blanc, which carried on across the channel and eventually ran aground on the Halifax side near Pier 6 at the foot of Richmond Street. At 9:04am, the main cargo exploded, ripping the ship apart and sending chunks of the hull out over the buildings at the waterfront, some landing up to 3.5 miles away from the site of the blast.

This photo was taken two days after the explosion, looking across the Narrows toward the wreck of the SS Imo, aground on the Dartmouth shore.
Image via Wikimedia.

The Wikipedia entry tells of the moment of the explosion:

The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,030 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont Blanc‘s forward 90 mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, while the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.

A cloud of white smoke rose to over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). The shock wave from the blast travelled through the earth at nearly 23 times the speed of sound and was felt as far away as Cape Breton (207 kilometres or 129 miles) and Prince Edward Island (180 kilometres or 110 miles). An area of over 160 hectares (400 acres) was completely destroyed by the explosion, while the harbour floor was momentarily exposed by the volume of water that vaporized. A tsunami was formed by water surging in to fill the void; it rose as high as 18 metres (60 ft) above the high-water mark on the Halifax side of the harbour. Imo was carried onto the shore at Dartmouth by the tsunami. The blast killed all but one on the whaler, everyone on the pinnace and 21 of the 26 men on Stella Maris; she ended up on the Dartmouth shore, severely damaged. The captain’s son, First Mate Walter Brannen, who had been thrown into the hold by the blast, survived, as did four others. All but one of the Mont Blanc crew members survived.

Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured, more than 300 of whom later died. Every building within a 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mi) radius, over 12,000 in total, was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Stoves and lamps overturned by the force of the blast sparked fires throughout Halifax, particularly in the North End, where entire city blocks were caught up in the inferno, trapping residents inside their houses. Firefighter Billy Wells, who was thrown away from the explosion and had his clothes torn from his body, described the devastation survivors faced: “The sight was awful, with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads missing, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires.” He was the only member of the eight-man crew of the fire engine “Patricia” to survive.

Intercolonial Railway dispatcher Vince Coleman is credited with saving some three hundred passengers of an inbound Saint John train, by going back to the telegraph office and ordering the train to stop outside the likely blast zone: “Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.” The train was only slightly damaged and there were no fatalities onboard. Coleman died at his post when the ship exploded.

The earliest rescue efforts were mounted by the crews of British, Canadian, and American naval ships in port, and two US Navy ships that arrived later in the day. Many wounded were brought aboard the ships and treated there: the explosion having taken down all the electric power lines in the area, these were the best-lighted-and-heated places to take the injured until emergency power lines could be set up onshore.

Later in the day, a small fire near the magazine of Wellington Barracks caused a panic about a second explosion which hampered early rescue attempts adjacent to the blast area. Rescue trains were dispatched from many communities in the Maritimes and New England, including a major relief effort from Boston. A severe winter storm struck Halifax the next day, causing further delays in locating and assisting wounded and injured Haligonians. Sixteen inches of snow blocked several railway lines, and caused greater distress among the survivors, and knocking out the telegraph lines that in many cases had only just been re-connected after the blast.

For further reading on the explosion, the rescue efforts, and the aftermath, I can recommend Laura M. Mac Donald’s Curse of the Narrows, which recounts a great many individual stories of the people of Halifax and Dartmouth who lived through the disaster.

Update, 6 December: Rick Tessner sent me a link to this video which does a good job of explaining what happened to cause the explosion.

Sixty Symbols
Published on Dec 4, 2017

Sixty Symbols regular Dr Meghan Gray on an infamous event that occurred in her home town – the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917.

MORE DETAILS
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic: https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/…
Nova Scotia archives stuff: https://novascotia.ca/news/smr/2009-1…
CBC: http://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/halifa…

While not a typical video for us, Dr Gray is a Sixty Symbols stalwart and really wanted to share the story of this explosion which is an event of great interest to her home town of Halifax — and an event with a pretty significant science component.

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