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North America's largest gantry crane erected in North Vancouver

Shannon Moneo
North America's largest gantry crane erected in North Vancouver
A massive gantry crane is taking shape at the Seaspan Shipyard in North Vancouver, B.C. It will become the largest gantry crane in North America. -

The name of the largest gantry crane in North America was officially unveiled at a ceremony in North Vancouver.

The 300 tonne crane will now be known as Hiyi Skwayel, the Squamish language translation of “Big Blue.”

In March, Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards asked Grades 4-7 students from 25 North Vancouver schools to come up with a handle for its towering new heavy lifter.

“The winner is a name that fits with the look of the crane,” said Seaspan Shipyards president Brian Carter.

The gantry crane stands 84 metres tall, has a 76-metre span and can lift 300 tonnes.

It can operate in almost all weather except severe winds greater than 100 kilometres per hour, which activate a lock down.

The crane was also designed to withstand seismic events.

Once fully installed and operational later this summer, the crane will be worth about $20 million, said Carter, a naval architect, who moved from San Diego to join Seaspan 2.5 years ago.

The crane is a crucial piece of equipment for Seaspan. It will help the company build 17 non-combat vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard.

“It’s 30 years of work,” said Carter, a 20-year veteran of the naval industry, who also has an MBA degree.

The purchase of the crane is part of Seaspan’s two-year, $200-million modernization project.

Construction started in October 2012 and is scheduled to finish by this fall.

The new crane becomes Seaspan’s only outside crane, however, the company has 15 cranes operating in various indoor shops.

Seaspan carried out a global search to find a manufacturer for the crane.

Bids were received from all over the world with the leaders emerging from Asia and Europe, Carter said.

The eventual winner was Shanghai, China-headquartered ZPMC, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cranes and steel structures.

The crane was ordered in the summer of 2012 and was completed in late 2013.

Because of its immense size, the crane was shipped from China in three large pieces: the fixed leg; hinged leg; and main girder, along with thousands of smaller components.

It landed at Fraser Surrey Docks, before being offloaded and transported to Seaspan’s North Vancouver location.

Once in North Vancouver, it was erected over a period of about two weeks.

It took roughly four hours to install just the main, 500-tonne girder.

One of the larger lifts ever done in Vancouver, a special crawler crane with a 115-metre long boom and 1,350-tonne lifting capacity was brought from Russia to carry out the special lift.

The crawler crane itself was assembled from 80 truckloads of components.

The gantry crane will be fine-tuned over the next few months as the cables, hydraulics and various systems are installed.

Carter, who was taking his first trip up the crane in mid-May, said there’s quite a bit of work remaining to get it work-ready.

Because big ships are built in blocks, the gantry crane will be used to erect the blocks onto what becomes the finished ship, Carter said.

Historically, shipyards would rent crawler cranes to build large ships because the work wasn’t constant enough to justify the large investment to purchase a gantry crane, he said.

Seaspan’s new crane is a symbol of the company’s encouraging future.

Work on the first ship will start in October.

Carter said he foresees the current workforce of 150 people swelling to about 1,000 over the next few years, as Seaspan and the crane ramp up production.

Coincidentally matched to the 30-year life of the crane over the next three decades, Carter predicted that Seaspan will enjoy strong, stable growth that creates good-paying jobs.

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