Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Lobby group says Lake Superior needs more icebreaking

Sep 20, 2019 04:09PM ● By Editor

The Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley was in Thunder Bay for repairs to its engine in April, 2019 (file image)

By Staff - September 20, 2019

A lobby group for the shipping industry wants the Canadian government to improve icebreaking capacity on Lake Superior and the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The Ottawa-based Chamber of Maritime Commerce says there are currently only two icebreakers permanently based on the Great Lakes.

"There are deficiencies on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border," said Bruce Burrows, president of the chamber.

This year, he told, "We had a very tough spring, a lot of heavy ice including up your way, and both fleets combined were basically incapable of addressing needs."

Burrows said his group has been telling the Canadian Coast Guard for the past couple of years that it needs additional assets.

He added he's encouraged by recently-announced federal plans to upgrade the Coast Guard fleet including the procurement of six new icebreakers to replace aging vessels.

Burrows noted it will take up to eight years before any new boats are commissioned, and that officially, they are currently designated for deployment on the east coast and in the Arctic.

But he said the potential benefit for the Great Lakes is "to cascade some older vessels which are still in good shape, to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes."

Burrows said the Chamber of Maritime Commerce is also advocating for a total of five new Coast Guard icebreakers, in addition to the ones to be constructed as replacements.

"We still feel strongly we need one additional icebreaker for the upper Great Lakes, which would include Lake Superior and Thunder Bay, one for the lower lakes, a 'rover' that could stretch anywhere from the Seaway to Thunder Bay in the event of a severe ice season such as we saw this past season, and two assets for lower down in the St. Lawrence and the Gulf."

Burrows conceded that the government is focused on just the replacement program for now, but he said that, as an interim measure, "let's try to get at least one of the cascaded boats positioned up into the lakes initially, which would give access for coverage up into Lake Superior."

Last year, the Coast Guard bought three used icebreakers from Sweden.

According to Burrows, they are allocated to service on the east coast, but he feels they give the Coast Guard opportunity to shuffle older but still serviceable vessels into other areas.

"I'm optimistic that in the next few years we should have regular access to an asset. Where it will be home-ported is debatable. In the end, as long as we have regular access to an additional vessel, we should be happy with that."

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Thunder Bay Newswatch website.

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here