The Coast Guard is warning Thunder Bay residents to stay off the harbour ice, as two ice-breaking vessels from the United States are scheduled to start clearing shipping channels today.

Thunder Bay harbour master Guy Jarvis said the 42-meter-long Katmai Bay and Morro Bay will open some "tracks" in the harbour.

“What we want to try to do is break some straight lines into the five main entrances into Thunder Bay — the north entrance and the south entrance and the Kam River entrance ... basically trying to make everything straight,” he said. “[We want to] break big ice into little ice and then into ice cubes, finally.”

Katmai Bay

USCGC Katmai Bay is a 140 foot Bay-class Ice breaking tug, home-ported at the US Coast Guard Sector in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The tug will be working in Thunder Bay's harbour to clear ice. (http://www.uscg.mil/)

But this weekend help will arrive in the form of the larger American ice-breaking cutter, the Alder, Jarvis said.

“She just works faster.  She's got more horsepower so that, if we are coming into difficulty with these smaller vessels, we've got more horsepower to get things done.”

The minister of Fisheries and Oceans said on Wednesday that the Canadian Coast Guard will re-assign additional ice-breaking vessels to the region to get shipping started as soon as possible.

“This year's frigid temperatures have led to ice conditions that have not been seen in the Great Lakes or Eastern Canada in decades, which are having a direct adverse impact on Canadian products reaching domestic and international markets,” the department stated in a press release issued Wednesday.

“The Government and the Canadian Coast Guard have made an important decision to re-assign additional Coast Guard resources to the Great Lakes, to ensure that Canadian products, resources and agricultural goods get shipped to market.”

Jarvis estimated the first cargo vessel into Thunder Bay will get into port around April 4.

That's roughly a week behind the usual opening of navigation.

OPP warns of unsafe ice conditions

Provincial police are also cautioning people to be cautious as ice-breaking starts in Thunder Bay's harbour. 

In a press release issued Thursday, the OPP reiterated the Canadian Coast Guard's recommendation that fishermen, snowmobilers and other recreational users leave the ice immediately if they see an icebreaker in the vicinity. The ice may move or break apart even at a significant distance, creating a hazard for anyone in the area of an icebreaker. All personal property, temporary structures and recreational equipment, should also be moved to shore.

Quick Facts

  • Ice-breaking operations and shipping traffic create fragmented ice or open water that may be difficult to see from afar, may be obscured by newly fallen snow, may not refreeze immediately and may be further weakened due to changes in weather. 
  • Ice-breaking creates locally unstable ice conditions or open water that may persist long after ships have left the area.
  • All ice near ice-breaking operations and shipping activity should be considered unsafe.
  • Dates and routes are subject to change with little or no notice due to operational requirements or sudden and significant changes to weather and ice conditions.