Coast guard takes a balanced approach to icebreaking program

Diane
Diane Crocker
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The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker George R. Pearkes is shown.

When it comes to the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaking program, Paul Veber said it can be hard to set an exact budget.

“We don’t have any set budget per se for the ice program because the fleet is funded to be operational to deliver all the programs the coast guard delivers,” said Veber, the superintendent of ice operations for the Atlantic region.

As a core program of the Coast Guard, Veber said commercial vessels pay a marine service fee that includes icebreaking, but provincial ferries are exempt from that.

Veber said the icebreakers are also in position to provide search-and-rescue coverage, navigation aids and to lift and place buoys.

During the winter season, ice officers at the Atlantic ice operation centre in St. John’s answer calls for assistance. The season can run from early December to as late as late June or early July.

“We have somebody to answer the phone 24-hours a day until the ice goes,” said Veber.

The plan for any given year is based on consultation with the Canadian Ice Service and on expectations from the year before. Based on that, a plan is made for deployment of the ships.

“Obviously, the development of ice isn’t aware of our plans, so we have to adjust the plan as the season progresses.”

This year the service saw an early start in November which meant the program had to jump ahead to ensure icebreakers were in place. In November the ice service does provide more of a glimpse of what the upcoming season will look like and from there, Veber said, the coast guard starts to work with the plan to make adjustments.

While icebreaking is a core program, Veber said search and rescue is the number-one priority of the Coast Guard ships.

“When it comes to actual ice taskings, passenger ferries that are in ice are the next priority,” he said. “We have to have to make sure the ferries are moving, but commercial traffic has to keep moving as well,  or else we’d be facing situations where communities have fuel shortages, or mines or production plants have to shut down.”

The Atlantic region has eight icebreakers in its fleet. Four are stationed around the Gulf of St. Lawrence servicing the Labrador and Quebec Lower North Shore, P.E.I. to Magdalen Islands and the Marine Atlantic ferries running between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Icebreakers are also located outside of the Gulf on the east and northeast coasts of this province and in Sydney.

Organizations: Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Ice Service, Marine Atlantic

Geographic location: Atlantic, Newfoundland, Magdalen Islands Nova Scotia Sydney

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