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Early ice growth means busy icebreaking season for coast guard vessels, officials in St. John's say

Canadian Coast Guard personnel at work at the Fleet Operations Centre at the Canadian Coast Guard Headquarters in St. John’s.
Canadian Coast Guard personnel at work at the Fleet Operations Centre at the Canadian Coast Guard Headquarters in St. John’s. - Glen Whiffen

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker fleet is expecting a busy season with the freeze-up of sea ice occurring three to four weeks ahead of a normal ice year, officials said in St. John’s Tuesday.

Brad Durnford, superintendent of ice operations for the Atlantic Region, said during a technical briefing that water temperatures are lower than normal around the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland and Labrador, and long-term forecasts show Eastern Canada having a chance of a cooler than normal winter, which will continue the ice growth.

There’s already significant ice growth along the Labrador coast.

Durnford said that if you look at trends, the amount of ice this year is looking to be above the 30-year average.

So far this season, he said, icebreakers have already been assisting vessels in ice.

“Environmental factors like warm fronts, storm system tracks and the jet stream location can affect the amount of ice produced in any given year, which makes it hard to predict the type of year it will be with any certainty,” he told reporters. “It can change on a dime.”

During winter, from about mid-November to the end of May, icebreaking services are provided on the Labrador Coast, the east coast, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers, and the Great Lakes.

During the summer months, from about July to November, icebreakers are deployed to the Canadian Arctic.

Services provided include route assistance to shipping, harbour breakouts for commercial and fishing vessels, flood control in areas prone to ice jams, northern re-supply to remote communities and Arctic sovereignty.

For the 2017-18 icebreaking season, Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers carried out 113 escorts, three track maintenance, 10 freeing of beset vessels, 10 commercial harbour breakouts, eight ice reconnaissance with vessel, one case of providing ice information to client vessels and 45 fishing harbour breakouts.

In the meantime, the Captain Molly Kool is the first of three medium icebreakers to arrive from Norway, acquired by the Canadian Coast. The other two vessels will come on stream over the next two years.

The new vessels will allow the level of icebreaking services to be maintained while the other ships in the fleet undergo refit, maintenance and vessel life extension work.

The Captain Molly Kool is undergoing refit and conversion work at Chantier Davie in Lévis, Que., to ensure it complies with Canadian regulatory and Coast Guard operational standards before entering the fleet.

A Canadian Coast Guard news release states the namesake of the icebreaker, Captain Myrtle (Molly) Kool, was the first woman in North America to become a master mariner. Myrtle Kool, known by everyone as Molly, was born in 1916 in Alma, N.B. In 1937, she was the first woman in North America to become a licensed ship captain, and in 1939 was awarded her coastal master’s certificate.

glen.whiffen@thetelegram.com

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