Barge season in Canada’s Northwest Territories to get ‘early start’

The N.W.T. government says it’s ‘committed’ to making sure that cargo is delivered to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay this year. (NTCL)
An official with the Northwest Territories’ Marine Transportation Services (MTS) says they will be getting an “early start” to this shipping season to ensure the delivery of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of overdue cargo to Paulaktuk, N.W.T., and Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

The N.W.T. government-owned barge company was heavily criticized last fall after it cancelled its cargo deliveries to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. The company said the cancellation was due to thick ice in the Beaufort Sea.

“It’s very unfortunate what happened last year,” John Vandenberg, N.W.T.’s assistant deputy minister of Infrastructure, told CBC. “We want to make sure that we make up for it. We’re going to bring the cargo this year. We’re committed to getting the cargo to them.”

Vandenberg said he’s hoping the barges will begin sailing earlier this year and a sailing plan will be released within the next two weeks.

“We have vessels [in Inuvik]. We also have all the material in secure storage in Inuvik right now, so it won’t be too difficult to load the barges from there and move it,” he said.

John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister of Infrastructure, is assuring communities they will get their shipments this year. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

MTS said there are approximately 860 tonnes of goods left over from last year that need to be delivered to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. But Vandenberg says even with the leftover cargo, there will still be plenty of room for new orders this year.

Vandenberg said the exact timing of this year’s deliveries will be largely up to when fuel shipments will be delivered to the Hay River shipyard, which come by rail from the Strathcona Refinery in Alberta.

Late fuel deliveries have postponed MTS’s sailing schedule several times in the last few years.

“We’ll try to get the petroleum down river as early as possible,” Vandenberg said. “At Inuvik and at [Tuktoyaktuk] we’ll yard the barges and we’ll load them up.”

‘Unfair competition’

MTS’s return to the Kitikmeot region in western Nunavut this season has caused the private industry to criticize the territorial government.

The NEAS Group — a partnership between Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping and Nunavik Eastern Arctic Shipping —recently won the Nunavut government’s contract to be the dedicated carrier for the majority of the territory’s communities, excluding Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. However, the company is still planning on sailing to the two communities, where they’ll compete with MTS.

NEAS Group president and CEO Suzanne Paquin said government-owned MTS competing with private companies for business outside of the Northwest Territories is “unfair.”

Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping shared this photo on their facebook page, showing the MV Mitiq escorted by a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker in Ungava Bay, July 14, 2016. (Facebook)

“We find it extremely difficult to compete against the government who have unlimited funds to be able to patch all kinds of mistakes or offer all kinds of things that the private sector is unable to do,” Paquin told CBC.

“It is a service industry. The fact that they are still able to do such a terrible service and still be in business tells you a lot.”

The Northwest Territories government got into the shipping business when it bought the Northern Transportation Company Limited’s (NTCL) assets for $7.5 million in December 2016 after the company filed for bankruptcy protection after racking up about $140 million in debt.

When asked about Paquin’s concerns, Vandenberg said he doesn’t believe MTS is doing anything wrong, noting it was once a Crown corporation.

“The business that we’re doing is the same business that the Government of Canada did as NTCL for 36 years here in the Northwest Territories,” he said.

“The business is the same. We’re not taking on any new business or taking market share away from anybody else.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: The Arctic shipping route no one is talking about, Cryopolitics Blog

China: Details of China’s nuclear-powered icebreaker revealed, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: Authorities in Arctic Finland plan zones for controversial rail line, Yle News

Russia: Russia, China step up talks over Arctic shipping, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Local shipping generates more emissions than domestic flights, Radio Sweden

United States: Agency supporting Alaska’s rural development has new leader, Alaska Public Media

Hilary Bird, CBC News

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