Shipping season grows, Coast Guard cuts back
Budget cut of $14 million poses “massive challenge”
The Arctic shipping season might be getting longer — but because of budget cutbacks and growing fuel costs, the Canadian Coast Guard’s vital services to Arctic ship operators will shrink this year.
The Coast Guard faces a $14 million budget cut this year, because of planning decisions made in previous years. At the same time, the service is getting battered by rising fuel costs.
That means that Coast Guard vessels will depart the eastern Arctic by Oct. 31 this year, even though sealift vessels will likely make their final sailings through the first week of November, and some fishing vessels are likely to remain in Davis Strait even longer than that.
And for ship-owners, one of their biggest worries is the status of the Coast Guard’s navigational aids program. Navigational aids are buoys and markers installed by Coast Guard vessels, at the beginning of the season.
It’s an expensive program, but a Coast Guard scheme aimed at modernizing its navaids system now appears to have run aground. Savings from a modernized navaids system would have made up for the $14 million cut, but that’s not happening.
“This is a massive challenge for [the Coast Guard] in that it recognizes now that some of the initiatives that were planned a number of years ago, when these savings were booked, may in fact not be realized and CCG may not be moving in that area,” Gardiner said, according to the minutes of last fall’s meeting of the northern branch of a group called the Canadian Marine Advisory Council.
Michael Gardiner, a high-ranking Coast Guard official, discussed this ironic piece of news again, at a meeting of the advisory council in Iqaluit last week. He told delegates that rising fuel costs are making a bad situation even worse.
Ship owners, and other groups, such as the Government of Nunavut, aren’t happy.
Alan Johnson, of Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation, pointed out that the Coast Guard is the only federal body capable of protecting sovereignty.
And shipping company representatives said that navigational aids, coupled with the work of the Canadian Hydrographic Service, which is responsible for producing navigational charts, is essential for their business.
The marine advisory council, chaired by the Coast Guard and Transport Canada, brings ship owners together with officials who work with federal and territorial governments.
The body met in Iqaluit last week from April 18-20.
On April 21, many of the same people stayed for a consultation on the future of Arctic shipping sponsored by the Arctic Council.