Every time an icebreaker escorts a ferry on the Labrador run it costs Canadian taxpayers between $87,000 and $142,000 a day, depending on the vessel used.
The provincial ferry service between the island and Labrador is contracted out to private companies.
For the past number of years, Labrador Marine has provided the service during the spring, summer, fall and early winter from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon using the Apollo.
When ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle prevent the use of St. Barbe as a port, the service runs out of Corner Brook. CAI Nunatsiavut operated the winter service with the Sir Robert Bond up until early May when the Apollo resumed the run, first out of the city and now from St. Barbe.
Under a new contract, Labrador Marine and the Apollo will provide year-round service on the run for the next two years.
This winter and spring has been a difficult one for the service with the thickest ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle since 1989. Crossings of up to three days with the help of icebreakers and numerous cancellations were the norm.
“So far this year we had an icebreaker dedicated to the Labrador run for 80 days,” said Paul Veber, the Canadian Coast Guard’s superintendent of ice operations for the Atlantic region.
“That’s in addition to the days that we’ve been on standby because the ice is too heavy for the ferry to run.
“So pretty well all winter we’ve had either an icebreaker under escort with the ferry or on standby to assist the ferry.”
Up until recently, said Veber, an icebreaker with the coast guard’s icebreaking program was still assisting the Apollo.
“Even though we had an icebreaker with her, (some days) they just couldn’t get into Blanc Sablon.”
Veber said six icebreakers have assisted the Bond and the Apollo this year — the Terry Fox, Henry Larsen, Sir William Alexander, Ann Harvey, Martha L. Black and Georges R. Pearkes.
With two ferry runs terminating in Blanc Sablon, Veber said it’s not uncommon to have two different icebreakers working with the two different ferries at the same time.
While the province pays the private companies to run the service, the cost of icebreaking is covered by the federal government.
Veber said the cost of the crew and fuel for one day on the Henry Larsen, the ship that provided most of the escort to the Bond, is $87,000 a day. The Terry Fox is even higher at $142,000.
“The Bond was under escort for over 5,000 nautical miles this year. And those weren’t easy miles — that was heavy ice that they had to get through,” said Veber. “When you look at our stats from this year, some of the escorts one-way between Blanc Sablon and Corner Brook took three days. So that adds up significantly.
“Now we don’t look at the cost,” he added. “We don’t say ‘OK we’re spending too much.’ It’s part of the service we have to provide and we have to incur the cost.”