The awesome power of Arctic icebreakers
When cargo ships get stuck in ice, it’s the Coast Guard to the rescue.
"Without the coast guard in front of us, we would not be able to proceed," says Simon Charest, First Mate, Sedna Desgagnés.
During the summer, massive cargo ships bring necessities to isolated Arctic communities. At this time of year, the open sea is a precarious and dangerous place, with frequent storms, high winds, and melting icebergs that shed small, dangerous chunks of ice that choke the waterways and threaten to tear holes in the hulls of these ill-equipped vessels. "We're basically a big box, with a small engine, to carry stuff." laments the Sedna Desgagnés captain, Michel Duplain.
We're basically a big box, with a small engine, to carry stuff.- Michel Duplain, Captain, Sedna Desgagnés
When the ice renders it impossible for ships to pass, Arctic icebreakers must be called in to create a path for them. Operated by the Canadian Coast Guard, icebreakers are engineered to cut through ice.
The bow of the vessel is shaped like the back of a spoon, allowing it to slide up onto solid or compacted ice and then shatter it from above with its massive weight. Some ships also have bubbler systems that shoot compressed air from the hull, effectively pushing the loose chunks of ice away from the hull, creating a larger path that the following cargo ships can safely pass through.