Quebec ship gives up after 6-day battle with ice, passengers fly home

Three icebreakers tried to clear a path through the ice for the Bella Desgagnés to Blanc Sablon beginning last Friday, but all efforts failed.

Ship had to detour to Newfoundland at one point as passenger's insulin ran out

The Bella Desgagnés runs passenger and supplies along Quebec's Lower North Shore. (GROUPE DESGAGNES INC.)

A ship that transports people and supplies to Quebec's Lower North Shore was forced to abandon its efforts to get to the isolated community of Blanc Sablon, near the border with Labrador, after extraordinarily thick ice made the journey impossible.

Three Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers tried to clear a path through the ice for the Bella Desgagnés to the community beginning last Friday, but all efforts failed.

"Not being able to complete the mission successfully, it's hard on everyone," said Julie Gascon, assistant commissioner for the Canadian Coast Guard, Central and Arctic Region.

Insulin shortage forces detour

The Bella Desgagnés had been trying to bring nine passengers and much needed supplies, including perishable goods, to the village, which has no connection by road to the rest of Quebec.

A photo of ice in the Strait of Belle Isle, taken April 19th. (Nordik Relais)

On Tuesday, the ship was forced to make an emergency trip to St. Barbe, Nfld., because a diabetic passenger was running out of insulin after an unexpected five days at sea.

"The time was very long. Very stressful, too," said the passenger, Jordan Nadeau, who was travelling from nearby Harrington Harbour.

He had only expected to the journey to Blanc Sablon to last one day, and was down to his last day's worth of insulin when the ship made the detour.

Passenger Jordan Nadeau left Harrington Harbour for Blanc Sablon with enough insulin to last the usual one-day trip. The Bella Desgagnés had to detour to Newfoundland when his insulin ran low. (Courtesy of Darlene Dumaresque-Roberts)

Ice too thick for coast guard's heavy icebreaker

The light icebreaker, CCGS Earl Grey, was the first to attempt to cut a path to the shore. When it failed, the medium-sized CCGS Henry Larsen was called in, which also couldn't get through. 

The coast guard then sent the strongest icebreaker it has, CCGS Terry Fox, but the ice proved too thick.

CCGS Terry Fox is one of the heaviest icebreakers in the coast guard's fleet. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Chunks of glaciers from Greenland are crowding the narrow Strait of Belle Isle, the coast guard said, and could cause problems for weeks.

Blanc Sablon Mayor Armand Joncas said he has not seen ice like it in 25 years.

"The Bella Desgagnés was designed for 18 inches of fresh ice — ice that was made this year — but the ice we got here is maybe a couple thousand years old," he said.

Passengers finally dropped in Newfoundland, fly from there

When the ship abandoned hope of reaching Blanc Sablon yesterday, it brought Nadeau and three other passengers back to Newfoundland. From there, they were to catch a flight to Blanc Sablon.

Five other passengers were taking a round-trip voyage and are returning with the ship as it heads back to the coastal communities of La Romaine and Rimouski.

Food and supplies will be either be flown to Blanc Sablon, or transported there by truck on a road that links the community to Labrador, Quebec's ferry agency said.