Coast Guard to maintain icebreaking services

Lobbying effort pays off for commercial shippers, arctic communities



The Coast Guard will provide full icebreaking services across the Arctic during this summer’s sealift.

“It certainly is good news for all the people in the western Arctic who depend on the sealift,” Cameron Clement, chairman of the Arctic Marine Advisory Board said last week.

Under pressure to trim its budget, the federal agency originally proposed to retire the Sir Wilfrid Laurier and provide icebreaking services to the West by freeing up one of five icebreakers in the eastern Arctic on an as-needed basis.

Federal minister steps in

But commercial shippers warned of costly delays and the risk of disrupting the annual resupply of communities.

They’ve since received assurances from the minister responsible for the Coast Guard, Fred Mifflin, that a western icebreaking service will be maintained, Clement said.

Jim Quinn, regional director for the Coast Guard’s Arctic operations, confirmed the agency will either dispatch the Laurier or charter a private vessel with icebreaking capability to serve the West.

“We’ve been given the support of the department, of the minister that the presence will be there,” said Quinn. “The exact methodology is still to be determined.”

Budget slashed

With a much-reduced operating budget­down to $400 million from $600 million last year­the Coast Guard turned to private shippers last year for advice on how to remain effective in the North.

The marine advisory board, made up largely of industry representatives, suggested the agency charter a commercial vessel if it can’t operate one of its own.

“By about mid-April we’ll know what the price and availability of commercial vessels are,” said Quinn. “We’ll be making a decision for this coming season probably near the end of April.”

Quinn said he has begun to review options for providing arctic Coast Guard services in the West over the long term, including the feasibility of a long-term charter with a private vessel for the 60-day long sealift season.

Quinn tipped his hat to the work of the advisory board.

“The whole question of how we’re approaching our business in the North is just an excellent example of cooperative partnership,” he said.

A delegation of northerners, including Clement, representatives of the GNWT, Nunatsiaq MP Jack Anawak’s special assistant and private shipping company executives, met with Mifflin in Ottawa in early February.

“There was recognition by the minister that having an icebreaker is a serious issue…and he’s indicated he would resolve the problem,” said Bob Doherty, the GNWT’s deputy minister of transportation.

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