Canadian Coast Guard Finishes Unique 2020 Arctic Operations Season
December 11, 2020
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories - The Canadian Coast Guard completed its 2020 Arctic operational season on December 1, 2020. A total of eight icebreakers deployed to the Arctic this year, with the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Henry Larsen being the last to leave northern waters.
This season was unlike any other, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Coast Guard worked closely with Inuit, First Nations, and Métis organizations and governments, territorial governments, communities, industry, and other partners to make decisions based on the best guidance available from federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal health authorities. Our Coast Guard maintained normal operational levels of service during the COVID-19 pandemic, while National Standard Operating Procedures were diligently followed to prevent the spread of the virus and there have been no cases of COVID-19 to date on any Coast Guard vessel across the country, making this an exceptional season.
During the Arctic operational season, Coast Guard plays an integral role in the safety of both mariners and the environment. It is ready to respond to various incidents, such as search and rescue and environmental response missions, all while supporting overall Coast Guard operational and program commitments. Crews, commanding officers, and shore-based personnel provide aid to the shipping industry with ice escorts, and daily updates on ice conditions and icebreaker operations during the annual Arctic resupply missions (also known as the sealift).
The support provided by Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centre in Iqaluit is key to keeping northern waters safe, and our economy moving. As of December 9, 2020, MCTS Iqaluit provided support for 128 vessels in the Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone (NORDREG). These vessels include cargo ships, research vessels, bulk carriers, fishing vessels, and Canadian Coast Guard ships.
As of June 1, 2020, adventure-seeking pleasure craft and cruise ships were prohibited from operating within Canada’s Arctic coastal waters as well as in the coastal areas of northern Quebec and Labrador under Transport Canada’s interim measures designed to increase safety, while reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 in remote and vulnerable communities. As of December 9, 2020, only 8 vessels, including general cargo and CCG icebreakers, made full transits of the Northwest Passage, compared to 27 vessels as of November 27, last year.
In collaboration with the Department of National Defence, Coast Guard coordinates marine search and rescue operations in three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC) located in Halifax, Trenton, and Victoria. For Arctic distress calls, which are received, dispatched, and managed by JRCC Trenton and Halifax, Coast Guard was involved in 77 cases in 2020. This includes 32 cases responded to by the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. As part of the Arctic Region’s search and rescue programs, Rankin Inlet’s Inshore Rescue Boat station crew carried out three training exercises, responded to six cases, and travelled over 2,062 nautical miles this season. The station closed on October 27 and will reopen in June 2021.
Under the Oceans Protection Plan, Coast Guard is actively working with Indigenous and northern residents to support the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) across the Arctic. Through the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program, community boats were delivered to Kugluktuk, NU, Pond Inlet, NU, and Yellowknife, NWT, enabling the local community to respond to search and rescue incidents off their coastlines.
Coast Guard’s Training and Exercise Program participated in a total of seven exercises with government, industry, and partners, such as the Canadian Red Cross, Government of Nunavut, and northern Hunters and Trappers organizations. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, two exercises were held in person, while the remaining five exercises were done remotely.
Coast Guard also provides seasonal aids to navigation services on the Mackenzie River and Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories. These services are essential for barges that navigate the river during the summer months. The deployment, repositioning and repair of aids to navigation on the Mackenzie River and Great Slave Lake are carried out by two specialized buoy-tending vessels, the CCGS Dumit and CCGS Eckaloo. High water levels this year on the Mackenzie River created exceptionally challenging conditions for both vessels; however, all aids were maintained as usual and both vessels completed their work in October.
The Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) seabed mapping and charting program is critical for navigational safety and directly linked to the essential services delivered by the Coast Guard in the Arctic. The survey season in the Canadian Arctic is a short but extremely valuable window to collect data and ultimately improve navigational charting in the Arctic to modern standards. CHS worked closely with its Coast Guard partners to ensure modified program could be delivered safely within COVID-19 protocols to protect our employees and northern communities. This amended charting season was nonetheless significant, involving five Coast Guard icebreakers, six missions totaling 230 mission days, and 20 hydrographers.
Needless to say, The Canadian Coast Guard’s seasonal Arctic operations were plentiful and successful. They will resume again in May 2021, however Coast Guard maintains a permanent, full-time presence in the Arctic year-round, with the opening of the Canadian Coast Guard office in Yellowknife.
Despite a season like no other, the Canadian Coast Guard members and crews promptly and successfully adapted to the new reality of operating during a worldwide pandemic. The Canadian Coast Guard efficiently implemented extra safety precautions to prevent the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus to and from northern communities all while effectively providing search and rescue services, essential icebreaking support, and our regular programs in the Arctic. We are certain that no matter what 2021 brings, the Canadian Coast Guard will continue to work with its northern partners to safely deliver services and programs in the Arctic, including assistance with community resupply and ensuring the safety of mariners and our oceans.
- The Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
The Government of Canada is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous communities to strengthen the marine safety system. Due to COVID-19, we are implementing new ways of delivering initiatives to promote safe boating practices and safeguard vulnerable communities in the Arctic. Thanks to the progress we are making on initiatives like the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program and Indigenous Community Response Training, our coastal communities are more protected than ever before.
- The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport
Our dedicated, experienced personnel work hard to provide services to Northern communities, and this has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. With extra safety precautions in place, our Coast Guard personnel have delivered essential services like search and rescue and icebreaking. I am tremendously proud of the way we have adapted this season to respond to difficult circumstances, and the work we have completed this year with our partners to ensure the safety and security of mariners, and protect the marine environment.
- Mario Pelletier, Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard
Thanks to our positive relationships with partners, we effectively collaborated on COVID-19 precautions and planning, which directly contributed to a successful season. We continue to engage with Inuit, First Nations and Métis governments and organizations, and all northern partners regarding a way forward for Coast Guard’s Arctic Region. These invaluable partnerships provide a unique opportunity to collaborate and create an Arctic Region that works for all Canadians, while addressing the priorities and concerns of northerners. Ongoing, year-round engagement will continue, including examining lessons learned as the COVID-19 pandemic remains a factor for Coast Guard operations.
- Neil O’Rourke, Assistant Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Arctic Region
Environmental response programs received and investigated 35 marine incident reports, with six requiring enhanced monitoring or intervention due to pollution or risk of pollution.
As of November 2020, CHS is working to process bathymetric data collected during 2020 Arctic season, which will increase the percent of area surveyed to modern or adequate standards, providing safe and efficient navigation of Arctic waters.
The MCTS Centre will continue to serve Arctic mariners until December 21, 2020, and will reopen in May 2021. During the seasonal closure, Arctic vessel traffic and NORDREG desk operations are managed by the MCTS Centre in Prescott, Ontario, providing efficient year-round support of all Arctic marine traffic.
As of December 9, 2020 our Arctic Operations logged the following:
- 45 commercial escorts
- 20 helo-based ice reconnaissance missions
- 1 commercial harbour breakout
- 117,307 nautical miles travelled by icebreakers combined
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