Coast Guard adds 3 weeks to Arctic ice breaking season as icebreakers head North

Icebreakers are sailing north over the next few days, two weeks earlier than normal. Those ships will operate until November, adding an extra week. Hopefully, this will prevent a repeat of last year's failure to resupply three Arctic communities.

Last year's Arctic resupply failed to reach 3 communities in N.W.T. and Nunavut

CCGS Pierre Radisson is shown escorting a commercial vessel through the ice. Coast Guard officials say they've added three weeks to the Arctic sailing season this year. (Canadian Coast Guard )

The Canadian Coast Guard is extending its Arctic ice-breaking season by three weeks this summer, an effort that could prevent a repeat of last year's failure to resupply three Arctic communities.

Seven ships are sailing north over the course of this year's season. Three of those will leave in the next few days, two weeks earlier than normal Those ships will operate until November, adding an extra week, explained Coast Guard officials during a briefing on the agency's plans for the Arctic this year.

Last October, Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and Paulatuk, N.W.T., went without their annual resupply barge.

Dangerous sea ice at the end of the season was partly to blame, among other factors, including a bad shipment of fuel. Taxpayers ended up having to pay millions to airlift some of the essential fuel and goods into those communities.

"Those were extremely unusual conditions that we had not seen in decades," said Mario Pelletier, the Coast Guard's deputy commissioner.

"We had our biggest asset there, [icebreaker] Louis St. Laurent, but it was simply not safe to proceed with [the] escort at that point," he said. "It was simply impossible for the commercial vessels to get through."

Interim icebreaker heads north

In addition to the longer Arctic sailing season, the Coast Guard is adding another ship, the interim icebreaker CCGS Molly Kool. It's one of three ships the government plans to use as a stop-gap until replacements to the current fleet are built.

Pelletier downplayed concerns similar ice conditions could hamper icebreaking and resupply this year.

CCGS Terry Fox breaks the ice ahead of CGGS Louis S. St-Laurent during a science mission charting Canada's Arctic continental shelf in 2015. Coast Guard vessels are heading north this week to begin their Arctic sailing season. (Gary Morgan/Submitted by Canadian Coast Guard)

Early ice reports suggest the ice will be easier to navigate this year, explained Marc-Andre Meunier, the Coast Guard's assistant commissioner of the Central and Arctic region.

"We're looking forward to a good season," he said. "We remain extremely flexible to move our assets as required."

More than 800 tonnes of overdue cargo from last year's resupply still needs to be shipped to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in addition to this year's resupply.

As of Thursday, most of the N.W.T.'s Marine Transportation Services barges are expected to begin sailing for 12 communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut next month and begin arriving in August.


  • This story previously stated to clarify that seven ships were sailing north over the next few days. In fact, three ships are sailing north over the next few days, with seven leaving over the course of the season.
    Jun 20, 2019 8:48 AM CT


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