Nfld. & Labrador

Extreme conditions turn coast guard icebreaker into grocery delivery service

It doesn't happen often, but when breaking the ice for cargo vessels isn't enough, the coast guard will load up supplies itself.

Labrador supply delays a safety issue, says spokesperson, so the Henry Larsen delivering provisions itself

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen has made one delivery of supplies for Labrador and will be making a second one. (Courtesy DFO)

It's not often the Canadian Coast Guard delivers your groceries, but a spokesperson says Mother Nature hasn't given them much choice this winter.

Ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle are the worst they've been in years, prompting ferry delays and cancellations. That has left the coast guard busy helping them and other vessels — and even carrying cargo itself, with the Henry Larsen providing grocery delivery service this week.

Paul Veber, superintendent of regional operations centre for the Canadian Coast Guard's Atlantic region, says it's rare the coast guard needs to do more than break the ice for cargo vessels, but it happens.

Everything that can be thrown at us this year, we're having to deal with it.- Paul Veber

"We've been trying to get some provisions over to Labrador through the normal route on the ferry crossing by having the icebreaker escort the ferry across, but Mother Nature's intervened and made ice conditions pretty tough this year, so we've had to use our own ship to transport some cargo up there," Veber said.

The length of time it was taking to get supplies to Labrador made it a safety issue, and the federal public safety agency made the request for the coast guard to transport cargo, said Veber, so provisions were loaded in Corner Brook and taken up to Blanc-Sablon, Que., near the Labrador border.

A view of the ice in the Strait of Belle Isle from aboard a Canadian Coast Guard ship, shared on March 8. (Canadian Coast Guard/Twitter)

"The first trip we made, we delivered 60 pallets, and the Larsen will be en route with a second load of potentially another 60 pallets up to Blanc-Sablon."

The coast guard has has delivered provisions when ice condition prevented ferry crossings to Fogo Island, he said.

"It's not uncommon, but it's not that frequently we have to do something like this but when the situation warrants, Public Safety becomes involved and we work together collaboratively and try to pull off something like this," he said.

Perishable provisions are placed in a climate-controlled area to keep them from spoiling during the trip, he said.

Thick ice, with ridges

"The ice conditions are extreme, there's no doubt about it," he said. "And it's not just up in the Strait of Belle Isle … It's been unprecedented in the sense that ships that normally are able to operate in the ice just are struggling this year and have needed the icebreaker escorts. So the conditions have been severe everywhere within the Gulf of St. Lawrence."

In addition to ice thickness, high winds have put pressure on the ice, causing it to form ridges that make crossings even harder, he said.

"We're experiencing everything this year. Everything that can be thrown at us this year, we're having to deal with it."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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