Canadian Coast Guard adds three weeks to Arctic season as icebreakers head North

CCGS Pierre Radisson is shown escorting a commercial vessel through the ice. Coast Guard officials say they’ve added three weeks to the Arctic sailing season this year. (Canadian Coast Guard)
The Canadian Coast Guard is extending its Arctic ice-breaking season by three weeks this summer, an effort that could prevent a repeat of last year’s failure to resupply three Arctic communities.

Seven ships are sailing north over the course of this year’s season. Three of those will leave in the next few days, two weeks earlier than normal. Those ships will operate until November, adding an extra week, explained Coast Guard officials during a briefing on the agency’s plans for the Arctic this year.

Last October, Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and Paulatuk, N.W.T., went without their annual resupply barge.

Dangerous sea ice at the end of the season was partly to blame, among other factors, including a bad shipment of fuel. Taxpayers ended up having to pay millions to airlift some of the essential fuel and goods into those communities.

“Those were extremely unusual conditions that we had not seen in decades,” said Mario Pelletier, the Coast Guard’s deputy commissioner.

“We had our biggest asset there, [icebreaker] Louis St. Laurent, but it was simply not safe to proceed with [the] escort at that point,” he said. “It was simply impossible for the commercial vessels to get through.”

Interim icebreaker heads north

In addition to the longer Arctic sailing season, the Coast Guard is adding another ship, the interim icebreaker CCGS Molly Kool. It’s one of three ships the government plans to use as a stop-gap until replacements to the current fleet are built.

Pelletier downplayed concerns similar ice conditions could hamper icebreaking and resupply this year.

CCGS Terry Fox breaks the ice ahead of CGGS Louis S. St-Laurent during a science mission charting Canada’s Arctic continental shelf in 2015. Coast Guard vessels are heading north this week to begin their Arctic sailing season. (Gary Morgan/Submitted by Canadian Coast Guard)

Early ice reports suggest the ice will be easier to navigate this year, explained Marc-Andre Meunier, the Coast Guard’s assistant commissioner of the Central and Arctic region.

“We’re looking forward to a good season,” he said. “We remain extremely flexible to move our assets as required.”

More than 800 tonnes of overdue cargo from last year’s resupply still needs to be shipped to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in addition to this year’s resupply.

As of Thursday, most of the N.W.T.’s Marine Transportation Services barges are expected to begin sailing for 12 communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut next month and begin arriving in August.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Ottawa ‘explores options’ to build Canada’s polar icebreaker, Radio Canada International

Norway: Norway to build three large Coast Guard ships for Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia extends lifetime of nuclear icebreakers to meet rising demand, The Independent Barents Observer

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

United States: New U.S. icebreaker will focus on Antarctic, says Coast Guard boss, Alaska Public Media

Alex Brockman, CBC News

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