OCEAN - GO Full Force!
As it celebrates its 45th anniversary, OCEAN looks beyond Canada for the next phase in its development.
(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2017 edition.)
OCEAN is a major maritime player in eastern Canada with substantial operations along the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes and global ambitions. Its founder and guiding force, Gordon Bain, describes OCEAN as an “integrated maritime services company” – his vision from the beginning – and indeed it is. With operations in towing, shipbuilding, salvage, dredging, equipment rental and transportation, it covers all the bases, or at least most of them, and does so with élan and a sharp focus on the customer.
BUILDING THE BUSINESS
When Bain returned to eastern Canada after graduation he wanted to be his own boss, so he founded a company called Aqua Marine and began using his diving competencies to do underwater maintenance work. A year later he bid on a Hydro-Quebec project for the maintenance of underwater dams, won the contract, and for the next ten years worked on projects in Betsiamites, Outardes, Gouin, Carillon and Beauharnois.
As the business grew, Bain began buying larger barges – so he could work on bigger projects – and diversifying into new areas like towing. The business was also becoming more global. So in 1987 he changed the company’s name to OCEAN Construction to better reflect the diversity and scope of services it was now providing.
Looking back on the process, he says, “Our services had become more diversified and global. We searched for a name that would represent this transition. The name ‘OCEAN’ emerged as a must to represent our business vision.”
In the early 1990s OCEAN added McAllister Towing & Salvage of Montreal and the Canadian towing company Les Remorquages Sorel Inc., both of which operated along the busy St. Lawrence Seaway. With the company growing by leaps and bounds, Bain needed a partner, and in 1994 he invited his good friend Jacques Tanguay to join him and help grow the business and expand its services. Tanguay, who is now CEO, shares Bain’s vision for the company and has been instrumental in its success.
In 1997 OCEAN Construction bought a shipyard in Isle-aux-Coudres to function as a “garage” where the company’s growing fleet could be repaired and maintained and where future vessels could be built. The shipyard was such a success that it wasn’t long before it was building and repairing vessels for others. Meanwhile, OCEAN was expanding its own portfolio of vessels and equipment to the extent that it began a rental service for customers and other interested parties.
In 2004 the company added dredging to its lineup with the purchase of Dragage St-Maurice and renamed it OCEAN Dragage St-Maurice. Today, the dredging division has six mechanical dredges and a trailing suction hopper dredge and, since 2013, has worked in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba during the harsh Canadian winter months.
MODERN HORSES FOR MODERN COURSES
Over the past 45 years, OCEAN has built or acquired more than 570 pieces of marine equipment including 500 barges, 30 workboats, 34 tugboats, seven pilot boats and six dredges. It has a workforce of 850 employees at sixteen locations along the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick, making it one of the biggest maritime operators in Canada.
Bain has built a diversified company with integrated assets to meet customer demands for construction, salvage, harbor services, towage and transportation and has surrounded himself with top maritime executives, operating personnel and licensed mariners. Strategically positioned in eastern Canada, OCEAN has demonstrated its ability to mobilize globally as well.
OCEAN Industries is the naval construction and ship repair division, specializing in small to medium-sized vessels with steel or aluminum hulls. It offers drydocking, conversion and repowering services. Along with ferry construction, the yard has built some of the most powerful tugboats in the world, including the OCEAN Tundra and OCEAN Taiga, two of the most powerful harbor tugs ever built in eastern Canada.
Launched in 2013, the 36-meter OCEAN Tundra is equipped with the latest technology and designed to operate in the most extreme conditions. She has a sophisticated firefighting system, a reinforced hull for navigation in ice, and generates an impressive 8,160 horsepower.
Her uses include the docking and undocking of vessels, escort services, firefighting, short and long-distance towing, and salvage and recovery work.
In 2016, the icebreaking escort tug OCEAN Taiga joined OCEAN Tundra as part of a new generation of extremely capable tugs providing year-round escort towing services to Canada’s east coast and on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Both tugs are part of the TundRA 3600 series of icebreaking tugs from Vancouver naval architecture firm Robert Allan Ltd.
OCEAN Marine Works rents floating wharves to the mining industry, municipalities and governments. The sectional and customized wharves, with accompanying barges, can be deployed anywhere and installed in numerous configurations for temporary or permanent use. The various options are meant to help clients avoid disrupting the marine ecosystem, a top priority for OCEAN.
Among recent developments, in September the government of Québec provided a substantial grant for the implementation of the OCEAN lifting barge project, designed and manufactured by OCEAN’s teams. This innovative piece of equipment can adapt, in the manner of an elevator, to all the configurations of port sites and will help promote shipping on the St. Lawrence.
“The ingenuity of our teams has made it possible,” notes CEO Tanguay, “by creating new equipment that will complement and facilitate the short sea shipping logistics chain on the Saint Lawrence. This project fits perfectly with the orientations of the government of Québec’s Maritime Strategy.”
Ocean Remorquage offers ship assist, harbor towing and marine salvage services. It is the first Canadian company to become a member of the International Salvage Union, a notable achievement in itself. Whether it be a bulk carrier aground, a container ship in distress or a sunken construction barge, the salvage team can quickly deploy firefighting tugs and specialized equipment to address the situation as well as engineering and technical support, including underwater intervention.
The group features a fleet of high-powered tugs for docking and undocking commercial vessels and, due to the often harsh conditions, the boats have reinforced hulls. They are also employed for deicing operations and reopening iced-in passageways. Recently, the company purchased three tugboats from Svitzer Canada, which is ceasing operations at the Port of Montreal.
Dredging is a year-around business for OCEAN Dredging DSM, which deploys dredges and supporting equipment throughout Canada and the Caribbean. Given its concern for environmental disruption, Ocean Dredging DSM has installed computers and inclinometer monitors on its cranes and excavator equipment to minimize any collateral damage. Dredging teams are highly skilled in environmental compliance standards and perform precision dredging operations.
VISION AND VALUES
“GO Full Force” is the company’s motto, and it’s both a play on the company’s name in French (Groupe Océan) and a promise to customers. “The word ‘GO’ is the first letters of Groupe Océan,” says Bain, “It calls for movement, gathering, collaboration. The term ‘Full Force’ is a reference to the power of the ocean and also of the individuals who compose the OCEAN team. It also reflects our natural propensity to move forward and seize the opportunities: Straight ahead!”
Teamwork is another essential element of the company’s culture and a big part of its success. “OCEAN is a story of teamwork,” Bain notes, “and it is because of the people around us that we have succeeded in making OCEAN what it is today. I trust the people that I hire. They are the heart of the company and represent its future.”
Bain himself has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors and exemplifies the company’s personality. In 1985 he was awarded the Medal of Bravery from the Governor General of Canada for saving the life of a woman who was attempting suicide by jumping into the Saint-Maurice River. In 2009 he was inducted into the Groupe Maritime Québec, a “who’s who” of the maritime community whose members support local institutions. He has a particular interest in children suffering from various illnesses and in 2012 organized an event that raised enough money to purchase much-needed specialized respiratory equipment for children at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Québec.
As for the future, Bain says it is “to become a world-class company and a trusted business partner for its clientele.” International expansion has already begun with the dredging division’s operations in Central America and the Caribbean, and that is a logical place to keep growing. From there, who knows? What we do know is that one thing won’t change – the focus on customers.
“We are a company whose mission is to supply marine services,” Bain concludes, “and all that defines us is oriented toward the will of continuing to serve our customers. Our values, of which excellence is the first one, are directly attuned to our vision. All is aligned toward the needs of our customers.” MarEx
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.