Calling all icebreakers: Canada weighs options to plug potential gap


The Canadian government is seeking guidance from the maritime industry on options to fill a potential gap in icebreaking services pending the arrival of new vessels being built under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS).

The call took the shape of a request for information (RFI) issued in November on behalf of the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). The government said the RFI was a proactive measure to determine what possibilities exist, and the time frames and costs involved to fill any potential need.

In addition to input on icebreaking services, the government also seeks information on bringing the CCG’s capacity to tow oceangoing vessels to world-class standing as part of efforts to strengthen its pollution response capability.

CCG spokeswoman Sarah Gilbert told Professional Mariner that the service maintains a Fleet Renewal Plan that identifies vessel needs over the coming 30 years. It is reviewed and updated every five years, the next time being in 2017.

Gilbert said that as the current icebreaker fleet ages and more out-of-service periods for refits are expected, gaps in the CCG’s icebreaking services may arise until new vessels are delivered. Vessel life extensions — planned maintenance, repair and refit work — are helping to keep older icebreakers in service, though it comes at the cost of removing them from duty, sometimes for months at a time.

“As such, the Coast Guard is not prescribing a set number of vessels to be leased, and will have to consider various options in addressing the operational requirements that may include calling upon industry to provide interim measures,” she wrote in an email.

Under the NSS, the government of Canada formed a partnership with Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards in October 2011 to build non-combat vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy. Vancouver Shipyards will build up to 17 vessels, worth $8 billion (CAD), at its facilities in North Vancouver over the next 15 years.

The non-combat vessels from Seaspan include three offshore fisheries science vessels, one offshore oceanographic science vessel, two joint support ships, one polar icebreaker, up to five medium-endurance multi-task vessels and up to five offshore patrol vessels. But the delivery timeline could leave Canada short on icebreaking and ocean-towing assets in the interim.

Seaspan declined to comment on whether the company could help fill any potential asset gaps.

A representative of Atlantic Towing Ltd., a member of the J.D. Irving Group, told Professional Mariner that the company “has the interest, skill and ability” to meet some of the Coast Guard’s needs. Irving has the NSS contract to build combat vessels for Canada.

“We look forward to participating in the discussion and learning more about the requirements,” Mary Keith, vice president of communications at J.D. Irving, wrote in an email.

In March, the federal government rebuffed an unsolicited offer from Chantier Davie Canada to build new icebreakers for the Coast Guard, citing the NSS selection of Seaspan for that work. Davie also has proposed to convert the offshore supply vessel Aiviq to serve as a polar icebreaker for the CCG. The shipyard in Levis, Quebec, is currently converting a containership into an auxiliary oiler replenishment ship to support the Royal Canadian Navy.

When queried about whether Davie was preparing an offer to the Canadian government for interim icebreakers, company spokeswoman Veronique Cliche said she was unable to provide an answer by Professional Mariner’s deadline.

By Professional Mariner Staff