NTCL may have to haul Baker-bound cargo overland

Kivalliq fumes as ice delays sealift orders


Heavy ice on the Chesterfield River forced two sealift barges bound for Baker Lake to turn back to Rankin Inlet this week, where they'll stay frozen in sea ice for the winter.

That has left sealift customers in Baker Lake awaiting the delivery of everything from pickup trucks to shelving units.

Smaller sealift customers worry they are being passed over by Northern Transportation Company Ltd. in favour of mining companies shipping fuel and equipment into the region.

Posts needed to complete shelves inside Baker Lake's community freezer were to arrive in early September. Thomas Elytook, president of the local hunters and trappers organization, now wonders when work on the freezer can be finished.

"Barge after barge came in, but no posts," Elytook said. "So now the community's stuck with no shelving for their meat."

It's no problem now, because the weather is cold. But come May, when temperatures rise, people will need to use the freezer.

Another man, a Baker Lake resident of five years, who didn't want his name published, said he and a friend are both waiting for delivery of new trucks.

He's willing to cut NTCL some slack because he ordered his truck in early October, but said other small customers are getting short shrift from the shipper.

"I guess it's part of the growing pains we've been experiencing in this community," the man said, adding that he thinks numerous barges laden with equipment for the region's many mining projects may have taken priority over smaller customers. "There's got to be a balance."

Elytook agrees.

"I think the company should prioritize private orders," he said. "Money talks, I guess."

Sunny Munroe, a spokesperson with NTCL, wouldn't say if the shipper allows mining companies with deep pockets to step to the front of the sealift line.

"That's a business contract between two privately-owned businesses and it wouldn't be up for discussion, [but] we are charged under the contract we have with the Government of Nunavut to move community freight," she said.

Munroe said NTCL is obligated to send three barges for community cargo to Baker Lake. This year it planned to send six, but the last two didn't make it due to ice in the Chesterfield River.

"I can imagine, to the people in Baker Lake who have freight on those last two barges, it must seem like they got overlooked. I can assure you they didn't. That was strictly weather related."

She said the company will move all Baker Lake-bound cargo to its customers this year, either by air or by overland cargo train. Details of how that would happen weren't available by press-time.

Meanwhile, a third NTCL barge arrived, along with its tugboat, in port at Rankin Inlet Nov. 7 listing badly and coated in a thick layer of ice.

But Munroe said the ice-caked barge looked worse than it actually was.

"Neither the tug nor the barge were in any danger," she said. "The captain was monitoring the situation fully. There is a maximum load they can take and they weren't near the maximum load."

The barge's freight was secure and was never at risk, Munroe added.

A fourth barge carrying one million litres of fuel oil is also frozen in at Rankin Inlet. But Monroe said NTCL told the municipality of Rankin Inlet in September that the fuel barge would spend the winter there. The company will train local workers to deal with any spills, and has its own staff in the community, she said.

The mining company that owns the fuel will be pumping it out sometime during the winter to get an early start on their season. That's a common practice in the North, Munroe said.

"We've done this quite a number of times," she said.

The Kivalliq region's mining boom has helped reinvigorate the barge service NTCL cancelled in 2003. At that time, the company said shipping dry cargo wasn't profitable.

The year before, NTCL lost contracts to supply the Baffin and Kivalliq regions with fuel, and said it couldn't make money in the Kivalliq by shipping dry cargo alone.

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