It’s ship-time in the Arctic again

As the life-giving sun shines down on the Arctic for nearly 24 hours a day, Nunavut residents are turning their minds to a traditional summer event ­ the annual sealift.



A barge-load of fuel delivered to Rankin Inlet last weekend signalled the start of the 1997 summer sealift in the Keewatin.

While south Baffin communities expect their first dry-goods shipments to arrive within 10 days, stubborn ice in the western Arctic threatens to delay the resupply of the Kitikmeot region.

The MV Aivik, a heavy-lift freighter operated by Transport Nanuk, was scheduled to sail from the Port of Montreal late Friday morning on the first of three voyages it will make to Nunavut between now and the end of September.

Mother Nature’s blessing

This year’s fuel resupply in the Keewatin, under the direction of GNWT’s Department of Public Works and Services, has been blessed, so far, with near-perfect weather conditions.

“That supply is going a little earlier than normal,” said Brian Austin, director of the GNWT’s fuel products division. “Ice broke up a little earlier than usual, and conditions have been excellent.”

Fuel for the Keewatin region is shipped from Edmonton by rail to Churchill on the Hudson Bay coast. The fuel is then transferred to a barge and floated north.

Over the next eight weeks or so, the barge will make a number of trips back and forth between Churchill and Keewatin communites, carrying both fuel and dry goods.

The resupply to communities in the Kitikmeot region, meanwhile, could be delayed by persistent ice in the Arctic Ocean, near the mouth of the Mackenzie River. The Kitikmeot communites are serviced by the same Northwest Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL) barge that brings fuel to river communities in the western Arctic.

Fuel and dry goods are delivered overland to Hay River, where the cargo is loaded onto barges and floated up the Mackenzie River out into the Arctc Ocean, and as far east as Taloyoak.

“At this point the barges are doing the river communities and waiting for the ice to break up so they can get into the Arctic,” Austin said. “Basically, everything is going as per schedule. There has been some concern expressed that ice is not breaking as rapidly as they would have hoped, but it’s still not a major concern at this point.”

Dry goods for Baffin

Stevedores in Montreal spent the week loading the first shipment of general cargo destined for the Baffin region. Under contract to supply Northern Stores in two dozen communties, the Aivik was to set sail for the North on Friday, with a crew of 35 men.

Depending on ice and weather conditions, the freighter is expected to reach Iqaluit by July 18. From Iqaluit the ship will sail to Kimmirut, Cape Dorset, Coral Harbor and Rankin Inlet before turning southeast for the Nunavik ports of Salluit and Kangiqsujjuaq.

The freighter will then sail north to Pangnirtung, before heading back to Montreal.

Another ship operated by Transport Nanuk, the MV Lucien Paquin, is set to sail from Montreal on July 22 for Arctic Bay, Resolute, Grise Fiord and as far as Little Cornwallis Island.

For Allan Mugford, transportaion manager with the Winnipeg-based Northwest Company, which operates the Northern Stores, the sealift is the climax of several months’ worth of planning.

“This is a priority right now,” said Mugford. “Come the first of April, nothing takes priority over the sealift, getting the right product in, and getting to the dock and making sure everything that was planned to go, goes.”

Appliances, furniture and clothing ­ most of the stock that isn’t food ­ is usually purchased early in the year, then consolidated in Montreal and Churchill.

Planning is essential

Since higher transportation costs mean higher prices, the more stock the Northern Store can get on the boat, the better, Mugford said.

“That’s why planning is so important. We do not want to be flying in anything that we can be sending in by ship.”

But all the planning in the world can’t prevent some costs from rising. Mugford cited a worrysome trend among food suppliers to stamp their products with “best-before” dates.

“There’s a lot of product that we’re limited on the amount of volume we can bring in, unfortunately, because more and more suppliers are dating their product. Sometimes it’s only two months, and sometimes it’s three months.

A lot of this product did not used to be dated. Pop is a very good example.”

The MV Aivik is tentatively scheduled to return to the North in the third week of August, with stops in Iqaluit, Clyde River, Broughton Island and Pond Inlet.

A third sailing is slated for mid-September, with stops at Pangnirtung, Cape Dorset, and possibly Rankin Inlet.

Sailing time from Montreal to Iqaluit is about six days.

Tanker more efficient

The fuel resupply for the Baffin is tentatively scheduled for the middle of August. The GNWT has contracted NTCL to source the fuel and ship it to the Baffin in a tanker.

Last year the oil came from the Gulf of Texas.

The GNWT is also considering the possiblility of using more tankers next year.

“Because of the efficiency of the tanker system, in terms of cost, as compared to railing and barging, we’re actually looking at the potential of doing that type of resupply in the Keewatin,” said Austin.

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