5. Planned Icebreaker Deployment

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) has carefully assessed the regional client requirements, taking into consideration changes in the volume and capability of marine traffic in various geographic areas and the local sea ice conditions. The original icebreaker requirements were based on the 1994 winter ice season, one of the worst ice seasons in history. In the past 15 years, there have been very few ice seasons that exceeded the 30-year average ice conditions and the tendency has been toward lighter ice seasons, even with inter-annual variability (please see Annex D: : Memorandum Of Understanding Between Central and Arctic, Québec, Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador Regions With Respect To Icebreaking for more details). Large vessels proceeding toward the St. Lawrence River have become more capable and less dependent on icebreaker support, while smaller vessels proceeding through alternate shipping lanes and the East Coast ferries are more likely to require icebreaker support.

The CCG is challenged to respond to all the needs of the marine shipping industry as there are a limited number of icebreakers. When the original document was developed in 1997, there were 22 ice-capable vessels in the CCG fleet. There are now only 18 ice-capable vessels, many of which are now over 30 years old (please see Annex B: List of Canadian Coast Guard Icebreakers for more details). These ships are also tasked to other CCG and Fisheries and Oceans programs, such as Search and Rescue, Aids to Navigation, fisheries enforcement and science, thus resulting in conflicting requirements for them during peak periods, such as the opening of the Seaway and Spring fisheries.

The age and condition of the older icebreakers have also added to the complexity of vessel scheduling. CCG is compelled to repair the existing vessels to the best extent possible. The current issue is with the requirement to replace main engines and/or key propulsion plant components; therefore, the number of heavy and medium icebreakers will be reduced over the next five years, by one vessel per winter season, in order to schedule major refits in an attempt to keep these icebreakers operating as long as possible. There are currently no spare CCG vessels that can be pressed into service to replace these vessels while they are repaired and refitted in an attempt to maximize their life span. Perhaps the most important point to note is that there are no icebreakers available to backfill in the case of an unexpected vessel breakdown. Consequently, the minimum number of icebreakers required to adequately maintain key ice-covered areas during an average winter ice season is 14, as shown in Annex C: Planned Icebreaker Deployment 2011-2016. However, given the current icebreaker conditions, this number cannot be interpreted as a guarantee these assets will be available.

Despite these challenges, the CCG has endeavoured to meet many of the user requirements and will continue to do so into the future to the greatest extent possible. A comparison of the Industry User Requirements and the proposed CCG icebreaker deployment is provided under Annex C: Planned Icebreaker Deployment 2011-2016, which indicates the most effective allocation of the limited number of icebreakers in the CCG fleet to best meet the needs of all clients, while balancing priorities and risks. The schedules outline the maximum deployments possible given current resource limitations. The following is a summary of the proposed icebreaker deployment by region.

  • Great Lakes: CCG will continue to deploy two icebreakers throughout the winter. Support from Quebec Region for the Seaway in late March will be provided if required and if available.
  • St. Lawrence River: The number of icebreakers and air cushion vehicles servicing the St. Lawrence River will remain the same; however CCG has improved icebreaker capacity to the Saguenay River.
  • East Coast: One heavy icebreaker will be reduced on the East Coast, corresponding to the reduction in one heavy or medium icebreaker for maintenance purposes over the next five winters. A second light icebreaker for Northumberland Strait will not be available due to other CCG/Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) program requirements. Support to the Labrador Coast has improved due to increased multi-tasking with aids to navigation.
  • Arctic: The Coast Guard will maintain the current level of support in the Arctic with six icebreakers.