Why aren’t sealifts docked at Iqaluit’s new deepsea port?

Blame the changing tides: Sealift operators, GN, say port is being used as intended

From left, MLAs Adam Arreak Lightstone and David Akeeagok, Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson, MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, Mayor Solomon Awa, church minister and former Baffin Fisheries worker Methuselah Kunuk, and Premier P.J. Akeeagok celebrate during the sealskin ribbon cutting unveiling Iqaluit’s new deepsea port on July 25. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Jorge Antunes

Iqaluit’s deepsea port opened July 25 with a lot of fanfare, a sealskin ribbon cutting and political leaders posing for photos as the MV Qamutik was docked nearby.

NEAS Sealift ship the MV Qamutik is docked at Iqaluit’s new deepsea port on July 25. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

Once the big show was over, the Qamutik — an NEAS Sealift ship that was in Frobisher Bay for a cargo delivery — quietly made its way back out to sea.

Later, it appeared to deliver its cargo the old-fashioned way, by barge, instead of at the brand new $84.9-million port.

NEAS Sealift parked at the dock for the unveiling ceremony, however according to vice-president of marketing and sales Marc-André Bougie, organizers told the ship’s crew not to do operations there.


“Probably for safety purposes,” Bougie said.

According to the Government of Nunavut and two sealift companies using the port, the new infrastructure is being used exactly as planned, at least for the time being.

Iqaluit’s deputy mayor, Kyle Sheppard, said there may have been some confusion in the public’s perception of the docks before they opened.

“More than anything, a lot of our expectations were wrong,” he said.

“Poorly managed expectations is what I’ll chalk it up to.”

Bougie credits the confusion to what people thought the deepsea port would be used for. While other types of ships can and will dock right at the port, what sealift ships really need is a ramp.

“I think there was a perception that the port was built for the sealift ships. But it’s a multi-use infrastructure, it’s multi-purpose,” Bougie said.

“So that’s really what our expectation was from the get-go. We didn’t really focus too much on the docking or the operation at the actual berth.”

With the new sealift ramp, Bougie said, barges can take shipments from the sealift ship and bring them to port at any time of day or night.

Previously, sealift ships had a one or two-hour window to work in approximately every 12 hours while the tide was in.

Iqaluit’s bay has some of the world’s highest variances in tide levels. Depending on when a ship is docked, there can be a water level variance of nine to 11 metres, Bougie said.

Some ports, such as on the St. Lawrence, have no tide at all while others might vary by a metre or two.

For tankers or other ships, the extreme tide variance in Iqaluit might not be a big deal, said Bougie, but it is a challenge for sealifts.

For example, if a vessel comes in while the tide is 11 metres below the dock, the shipboard crane operator cannot see onto the wharf.

The ability to use barges in combination with the new all-tide ramp is a “game-changer,” said Brian Tattuinee, business development manager at Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc.

Unloading cargo took two and a half days at the new port, compared to more than a week under the old system.

As well, having a fenced-off area to unload cargo rather than using the public beach is also having a positive impact.

Tattuniee said he has heard that people’s perception is that new port is not being used, “but that’s not really true,” he said.

“It is being used. People are envisioning a ship being there all the time when [offloading cargo]. We are already leaps and bounds ahead of where we were.”

Representatives from sealift companies and the GN’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation plan to review how this year’s sealift went to improve operations for next year.

“This is all new for us too,” Tattuinee said.

“We need time to understand how this changes our procedures in terms of being able to offload cargo.”

The MV Aujaq is scheduled to arrive in Iqaluit on Aug. 5 to drop off cargo. The plan is for that ship to anchor at sea and unload using barges as well.


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(38) Comments:

  1. Posted by Polique on

    Interesting the MV Qamutik was docked during the ceremony, for the sole purpose of enhancing the misperception this piece is meant to dispel.

    • Posted by SARCASM on

      All politicans love , a good photo op , surprise Justin didn t fly up for just that.

      • Posted by Carl on

        Pure photo op, I am surprised too Justin did not come up for the photo op, under the Cons, any chance of a photo op Harper would be there, even for a recycled funding announcement.

    • Posted by Succotash on

      Or like when the fighter jets do their fly-by on Canada Day… did you know that’s just for show? They’re not even going to shoot anything. What a bunch of phonies!

      • Posted by Nice try, but… on

        Not the same thing, or even close actually.

        • Posted by Succotash on

          Different speed, transport mode, and event but at essence you have transportation conveyances performing manoeuvres for symbolic or ceremonial purposes.

          • Posted by Polique on

            I see your point.

            What I’m saying is the symbolism reinforces the misperception the article ialludes to.

            There is no analogy here to a fighter ‘maybe’ going off on a fly by. We know exactly what those rituals represent and what we are going to get from the experience.

  2. Posted by Maq-Pat on

    The photo’s subtitle: “…church minister and former Baffin Fisheries worker Methuselah Kunuk” should instead read “…former Assistant Deputy Minister of Transportation Methuselah Kunuk”.

    He is not there in a religious capacity. He is there because, before his retirement he was one of the main public servants who drove this project.

  3. Posted by Northerner on

    When you see ships at ” DOCKS ” in montreal , vancover, halifax , they tie up at the “DOCK ” and load – unload . I guess the folks in Iqaluit , don t want to damage the new pretty DOCK.

    • Posted by Grumpy Old Man on

      If you want to be technical, a “dock” is a space in the water next to a pier, wharf or quay. Colloquially, these are also called “docks,” but if you are going to nitpick make sure your argument isn’t all wet.

  4. Posted by Nunavut on

    I like how it says quietly “Boom! Bang!” it was loud lol can hear the loaders from the other side.

  5. Posted by hermann kliest on

    White Elephant?

  6. Posted by Three Easy Steps on

    1. Tie up at the dock.
    2. Most of the time the crane operator can see the top of the dock, so unload directly onto a truck on the dock.
    3. When the tide is 11 meters down, either crane operator eats lunch, or crane operator unloads onto barge.
    4. Unloading is finished in 1 day, if there are enough trucks.

  7. Posted by Boondoggle on

    For those residents who attended the community information meetings and consultations on the port, we all recall the Government of Nunavut officials telling us that ships would dock at the port to unload onto the docking area. The only thing that the dock would not be able to do is roll-on or roll-off. So the dock would not be suitable for cruise ships.

    If all that was required was the ramp for sealift then we didn’t need the 10s of millions spent on the port platform and retaining wall. Back in the day, the GN focused only on current users. But if you ask any of those users, they weren’t adequately consulted either. The promised dredging isn’t going to happen because it was never a sound idea with the world’s second highest tide unless there were some serious engineering undertaken in the marine environment. I’m glad that the GN isn’t going to spend millions in dredging that would be throwing good money after bad.

    The new spin that the port is being used as intended is a load of anaq. Presume the ramp does not require a Port Authority.

    • Posted by Brian Willoughby on

      You are absolutely correct , and they claim it is our fault. It was sold as one thine, then Marc-André Bougie says, that we are confused. Business ethics.
      I disagreed with the port, but Iqaluit is quieter. The change may allow offloading for those who cannot use barges.

  8. Posted by Iqalummiut on

    What a load of baloney.

  9. Posted by decoration on

    $85 million decoration

  10. Posted by Sealift Ramps For All on

    Every community in Nunavut should have a sealift ramp. Right now, like.

    • Posted by Jamesie on

      I wonder how many communities could’ve gotten a sealift ramp out of the $85 million.

  11. Posted by Andy on

    The first sea lift ship was here for 7 days, using the barge and the new ramp. I would not consider this hours and it’s not shorter than in the years before. All the lovely statements during the opening ceremony were obviously only spoken to spread false information, or information people wanted to hear


  12. Posted by Hunter on

    So is this a deep sea port of just a 24 hour access ramp for barges?

    How much more money will it take so that ships can dock and tie up there and offload their cargo directly to the land from the ship?

    Need a floating ramp/dock large enough for ships to tie up and off load cargo which would float up and down with the tied but secured in place for the chipping season and secured enough for ships to tie up at.

  13. Posted by Skunk Works Transparency on

    The fundamentals that can reserve capital infrastructure budgets is perhaps establish two different shipping services for BAFFIN and KIVALLIQ. If you built two different shipping services to focus on port services and transportation this will certainly save more time and effort of freight costs, which Territorial government presently lacks.

    Port of Montreal can perhaps provide service ONLY to Baffin, and Port of Churchill to Kivalliq. Presently the accountability with GN executives and DM’s lack services from admin. to politicians bottom up. Lacks transparency.

    • Posted by ? on


      Whatever this was meant to say is buried so deep in GNspeak that I have no idea what your problem or your solution might be,


    • Posted by Sealift on

      It’s not up to the GN where sealift companies load their cargo.

  14. Posted by WTF on

    Darn right we thought it was for sealift ships! Who the heck has been jerking the public around?
    And blaming the known tides!?

  15. Posted by Colin on

    In the modern world—that’s to say 30 years ago–crane operators in Singapore didn’t need to see what they were doing. The entire operation worked with cameras and then instructions from a computer screen. Same thing with the iron mines in Australia. They operate ore trucks by computer—from a thousand miles away.

  16. Posted by These people showcasing a white elephant have no shame on

    The gravel slope now known as a ramp is the port of Iqaluit? The mega million thing next to it is there for show, right? I see no ship docking at the expensive part of the project, so what were these people celebrating, a gravel slope which is less then a million bucks to cover the excuse of the white elephant next to it?

    Please do not waste any more tax dollars on more white elephants! Will any worthy MLA have the courage to ask what the thing is suppose to be and why they did not just go with the cheap gravel slope now referred to as some sort of ramp.

    Hard to take any of these people on the picture seriously now as they have no shame whatsoever.

    • Posted by Ice on

      How long before the ice does away with that gravel ramp?

  17. Posted by Rabble Relaxer on

    This is the most hysterical, uninformed and vacuous set of comments I’ve seen here in quite some time. Like a bunch of peasants bickering over how to identify a witch and defaulting to the preferred solution.

    The dock is fine. The tankers showed that. The tides are tricky, particularly for operators who are currently set up to offload by barge. Like the NSSI guy said “We need time to understand how this changes our procedures in terms of being able to offload cargo.”

    It’s not just the cranes, they’ve got a whole crew with dedicated tasks at every other stop on their itinerary and switching it up in Iqaluit so that you have a couple of people tending lines 24/7 through 10 metre tidal cycles isn’t going to happen overnight (does anything in Nunavut work that well?). Which is not the same as saying it’s never going to happen. Obviously.

    • Posted by Really? on

      When ships are docked, they don’t need people tending lines 24/7. Once it’s tied up, it’s tied up. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1m tide cycle or 10 meter cycles. Just because the port is new in iqaluit, doesnt mean it’s new everywhere.

      • Posted by RU Cereal on

        You should test your hypothesis. I think you’ll be surprised. It’s not a floating dock we’re talking about here.

        • Posted by Suprised? on

          I work on fishing boats similar in size to those cargo ships. We’ve docked in places where tide cycles range from 1m to 10m and we never had to tend the lines. It’s not a hypothesis or rocket science. Once the ship is tied up, its tide up. It’s not going anywhere.

  18. Posted by Truestory on

    Ever heard of a word “insurance”? Maybe not “insured” yet.

    • Posted by Iqalummiut on

      Every item being transported on the ship is insured specifically because it might fall off that barge.

      • Posted by Insurance on

        This is only true if you ensure your shipment.

  19. Posted by Trevor on

    Interesting spin…more spin than interesting tho.
    As others have said there was no doubt during the design and consultation stage that this was portrayed, and rightly so, as a dock/wharf to handle sealift cargo transfer. The ramp, at the time, was described as a facility to be used when there was more than one vessel in the bay thereby enabling two or more ships to move cargo simultaneously since the dock would only be able to handle one. Of course had the dock been built as a finger pier (coincidentally, like the one the Americans built in the 1940’s!), instead of a marginal wharf, then two vessels could have used it simultaneously but that is a relatively minor point. The fact remains however that there were some, including Peter Woodward of the Woodward Group, who runs the tankers and who also runs a number of ferries in Newfoundland and Labrador, who strongly advocated for a finger pier with a tide adjustable ramp that could allow for the utilizing of roll on-roll off vessels. This would have allowed for a broader range of vessels, including a ferry to use the facility.
    As for the tides being a problem, number one the tides didn’t just come upon us they were known in the design phase and one would think for $85 million would have been factored into the design. And number two, there are many docks surrounding the Bay of Fundy and British Columbia where tide ranges are equally extreme that handle large volumes of ferry traffic like in Yarmouth and Digby and large container ports like the one in Saint John, NB.
    It is hard to believe that $100 million and five years later you still can’t swing a container from the deck of a ship onto a wharf and you can’t sensibly launch, take ashore or tie up a boat to a floating dock at low tide.

    • Posted by Maq-Pat on

      The old finger pier didn’t last two shipping seasons before it was deemed unrepairable. It also was also not built by the Americans. I’m quite curious where you want to ferry to or from.

      Yes, I agree we should be able to offload directly onto the wharf.

      • Posted by Trevor on

        I understood the old finger pier was built by the Americans so my mistake. As for the un-repairability after two years, it was wood pile construction (at least from the photos and the remains that are here) not iron crib construction so one wouldn’t expect it to last too long. The point was a finger pier is in many cases, like when you want to dock more than one ship but don’t want to expend the money to make a larger marginal wharf, a better design than a marginal wharf. But as I said that’s a minor point and largely irrelevant now as we have what we have.
        As for “where do you (I) want a ferry to run”? Nowhere. I was simply stating a fact that roll-on roll-off can handle ferry traffic and was one of the points behind Peter Woodward’s proposal for a roll on-roll-off ramp. And if a ferry and roll on-roll off capacity was incorporated into the design it would have allowed for all tide movement of cargo, vehicles and containers and not limited the dock to vessels with cranes and barges as it now does. That’s all my point is and that’s all my point was during the design phase.

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