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Great Lakes shipping group calls for more icebreakers

Jun 05, 2019 08:28PM ● By Editor

CCGS Samuel Risley is shown in this photo, provided by the Canadian Coast Guard, clearing a path in the ice in the St. Clair River this past winter. The federal government says it will spend $15.7 billion to renew the coast guard's aging fleet. 

From the Windsor Star - June 6, 2019

As the warm weather settles in, members of a shipping industry group are still thinking, and worrying, about winter and ice on the Great Lakes.

The Chamber of Marine Commerce is calling on the federal government to increase the number of Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers on the lakes by at least five under a $15.7-billion fleet renewal plan announced recently.

Bruce Burrows, president of the chamber representing the shipping industry on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, said its members were “plagued with ice problems in the Great Lakes this past spring and during the winter on the St. Lawrence River.”

The chamber said the cost to the Canadian economy of just one domestic ships being delayed delivering its cargo is estimated at more than $500,000 a day.

“This is a big hit to the economy,” Burrows said.

While Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard crews worked tirelessly during the spring on the Great Lakes, they were hampered by the age and condition of their ships, the chamber says.

“The existing fleet is breaking down, a lot,” Burrows said.

According to the chamber, two U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers were out of service in March and a Canadian icebreaker assigned to Lake Superior was only able to operate at 60 per cent of capacity. That ship also sat idle in April because of mechanical problems.

“We need to preserve the international reputation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence navigation system as being a reliable trade gateway that’s open for business,” Burrows said.

“But, it’s not just about dealing with service breakdowns due to the aging fleet – we need more overall capacity.”

The chamber says shipping on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River generates more than $60 billion in economy activity and supports 329,000 jobs in Canada and the U.S.

“These are big numbers and we need ice breaking to support this economy,” Burrows said.

If the eight states and two provinces on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River were treated as a single economy, it would be the world’s third largest, he said.

“Sarnia is right in the middle of that,” Burrows added.

As well as promising new ships, the Canadian government is moving to add three refurbished icebreakers as an interim measure, including the Captain Molly Kool that was dedicated recently at its home port in Newfoundland.

“That will help address this immediate issue of ships going in for long-term repair because they’re so old,” Burrows said.

“But, we still need additional capacity.”

Fleet renewal the government announced last week is needed because the average large coast guard ship is 38 years old and nearing the end of its service life, said Jocelyn Lubczuk, press secretary for the minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

She said the as many as 16 new multi-purpose vessels included in the announcement “will provide the coast guard with enhanced capabilities to meet evolving demands from its various clients, including for ice-breaking services in the Great Lakes.”

The Canadian Coast Guard has two light icebreakers in the Great Lakes, supplemented by medium icebreakers at the opening of the seaway season, or when needed, Lubczuk said.

No decisions have been made regarding the replacement of the medium icebreakers, she said.

As well as 16 multi-purpose vessels capable of light ice breaking duty, the government announced two new Arctic and offshore patrol ships will be built. Repairs, refits and life-extension work will also be carried out on the existing fleet until the new ships are delivered.

“We are ensuring the Canadian Coast Guard has the equipment and tools it needs to carry out its important work to ensure the high-quality service Canadians expect,” Lubczuk said.

Burrows said he worries most of the ships announced will be for regions outside of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway where the chamber is seeking a commitment for additional icebreakers to be built “quickly” and put to work.

“We don’t have that yet,” he said.

Burrows said shipping on the lakes and seaway grew 17 per cent over the last two years.

That growth is expected to continue while the industry also works with its partners to extend the navigation season on the seaway, and deal with unpredictable weather events brought on by climate change.

“We just don’t have enough icebreakers,” Burrows said.

To read the original article and see related regional reporting, follow this link to the Windsor Star website.

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