Canadian government promises coast guard two new heavy icebreakers for Arctic operations

CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent refuels the CCGS Pierre Radisson near Frobisher Bay. The new ships announced today are intended to replace the coast guard’s principal heavy icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, which is almost 55 years old. (Courtesy Canadian Coast Guard)

Decision lets the government avoid political fallout from choosing one shipyard over another

The Canadian Coast Guard is getting two heavy icebreakers for Arctic work, the federal government announced today.

The commitment by the Trudeau government would fulfil a promise made by the former Conservative government to build one Polar-class icebreaker at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver.

The second vessel is expected to be constructed by Davie Shipbuilding, of Levis, Que., pending the company’s formal admission to the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

By promising two ships and splitting the work, the government avoids the political consequences of having to decide between competing shipyards in B.C. and Quebec in what could be an election year.

Two years ago, the federal government set aside $15.7 billion to rebuild the aging coast guard fleet. Many of its vessels are more than three decades old.

The new ships announced today are intended to replace the coast guard’s principal heavy icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, which is almost 55 years old.

The Liberal government promised that at least one of the new heavy icebreakers will be in service in 2030, when the Louis S. St-Laurent is scheduled to retire.

A ‘game-changer’

“The new Polar icebreakers will be a game-changer for Canada’s marine industry, both in their construction and the difference that a stronger presence in the Arctic will make,” said Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, who is responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard.

“Built by Canadian shipyards, these vessels will enable the coast guard to conduct critical science, supply and other missions in our Arctic region year-round. Under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, we’re putting thousands of Canadians to work building a fleet that will serve those communities for decades.”

The future of the heavy icebreaker plan has been in question since the summer of 2019 when the single-ship program, originally given to Seaspan Shipyards, was mysteriously dropped from the company’s work schedule.

Both Seaspan and Davie have lobbied hard to build the ship, already designated as the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. That vessel was originally budgeted by the Conservative government at $721 million and was supposed to have been delivered four years ago.

But the retooling of the Vancouver yard, technical problems and construction delays caused the program to be pushed back repeatedly.

Federal officials said today that, so far, three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV) and 18 smaller vessels have been delivered to the coast guard under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, along with two refitted medium interim icebreakers.

Those medium icebreakers were converted from civilian use by Davie — which has attempted to set itself apart from the rest of the industry by creating a National Icebreaker Centre, which focuses on Arctic research and maritime engineering.

In order to hold on to its contract, Seaspan has focused its lobbying efforts on the economic benefits current and future ship construction brings to B.C.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canadian Coast Guard adds three weeks to Arctic season as icebreakers head North, CBC News

Denmark/Greenland: New guideline launched for Arctic-specific risk assessment in shipping, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland’s aging icebreaker fleet needs modernization, Yle News

Iceland: Int’l Arctic emergency marine exercise will lead to better response coordination, say participants, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: The Viking Sky incident – A wake-up call for the Arctic cruise industry?, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia’s Rosatomflot files lawsuits against shipyard as world’s most powerful icebreakers are notoriously delayed, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Trump administration may hire private ship to fill Arctic ‘icebreaker gap’ by year’s end, Alaska Public Media

Murray Brewster, CBC News

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