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Aging Canadian Icebreakers May Need Replacement

Monday, January 15, 2018

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After a recent mechanical break prevented the Terry Fox icebreaker on the St. Lawrence River from reaching a stranded ferry, there has been a renewed call for replacing the aging icebreaker fleet. According to reports, these vessels are at the end of their life cycle.

The ferry in question was eventually towed to shore by a private company, noted CBC News, but the age and condition of the coast guard fleet still remains in question.

Icebreaker Incident

After the Jan. 3 incident, ferry service between Quebec City and Lévis had to be canceled for the day due to ice accumulation on the Canadian river. This kind of closure has wider implications, including negative economic impact for the Port of Montreal.

While the coast guard has been criticized for not yet replacing the aging icebreaker fleet, Julie Gascon, spokesperson for the coast guard, noted that it had “deployed all of our ships and we're covering all of our key sectors.”

Economic Impact

Potential negative economic impact was reported in an internal assessment conducted in October 2017, which noted that the port of Montreal might lose container service to U.S. competitors.

Michelle Hill,  CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After a recent mechanical break prevented the Terry Fox icebreaker on the St. Lawrence River from reaching a stranded ferry, there has been a renewed call for replacing the aging icebreaker fleet. (Vessel pictured is another icebreaker from the fleet.)

The ports of Montreal and Quebec City are at risk for being partially cut off during the winter months, putting both indirect and direct jobs at stake.

According to CBC News, Canada’s newest icebreaking vessel is 30 years old, with two heavy vessels launched in 1968 and 1983 respectively.

"If this corridor is unreliable and the supply disrupted, it could have a catastrophic impact on our plant," said John Holliday, president of Montreal's Lantic Sugar Ltd., in an interview with Radio-Canada.

Private Sector Assistance

In light of the aging fleet, the Davie Shipbuilding shipyard in Lévis has offered to loan four of its own vessels to the coast guard. This would subsidize the number of vessels on the river for the duration of the winter.

Davie spokesperson Frédérick Boisvert noted that the mechanical break incident was indicative of the vessels being at the end of their life cycle.

"The federal fleet is rusting so quickly that it can only be replaced," he added.

Replacing the ships would create 300 jobs for the Quebec-based company, which laid off over 400 people before Christmas.

Repair Costs

Simply repairing the icebreakers isn’t enough, naval architect Paul Barbeau told CBC News, emphasizing that work conditions are difficult.

If left as-is, the fleet may lead to higher cost of maritime transport along with consumers paying more, noted Barbeau. This includes an increase in the cost of insurance and shipowners having to put savings aside “for the unexpected."


Tagged categories: Government; NA; North America; Quality control; Quality Control; Ships and vessels; Shipyards

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