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Canadian Coast Guard

To understand the Canadian Coast Guard, it is important to dispel some commonly held myths, based on the United States Coast Guard [USCG], from which it is very different. The first myth is that the Coast Guard is a paramilitary body, like the USCG, that polices the coast. In fact, Coast Guard ships are not armed and their crews are not trained in the use of firearms. The second myth is that the Coast Guard is a service much like the army or navy. In fact, the Coast Guard is a branch of the Department of Transport. The third myth about the Coast Guard is that it is heavily involved in the interdiction of illegal drugs, smugglers, illegal immigrants and other such activities. In fact, the Coast Guard has no legal mandate for such activities. The last myth about the Coast Guard is that there is one national fleet. In fact, fleet operations are highly decentralized and there are five regional fleets, each deployed, maintained and operated on a regional basis.

Two of the Coast Guard's primary functions are the aids to navigation and icebreaking programs. These programs directly and indirectly affect the lives of millions of Canadians, including remote communities in the North that rely on the annual Arctic Sealift for supplies and fuel. They also include commercial shipping companies which require assistance to navigate ice-filled waters and depend on aids to navigation to prevent marine casualties, commercial fishermen and pleasure boaters dependent on fixed and floating aids to marine navigation. A fleet of dozens of ships, ranging from small buoy tenders to large Arctic class icebreakers, is used to support the aids to navigation and icebreaking programs.

The fleet is managed on a regional basis by the Fleet Systems organization, which is the largest component of the Coast Guard. At Headquarters, the Fleet Systems organization is responsible for setting national standards and providing functional direction on manning, deployment, maintenance and other logistics. The regional and district Fleet Systems organizations make the day-to-day deployment decisions.

Coast Guard vessels undertake a number of different types of missions: servicing, maintaining and constructing floating and fixed radio aids; sounding; icebreaking and escorting; ice management and flood control; Arctic resupply; Search and Rescue; pollution control and marine emergencies. The Coast Guard also supports departments and agencies such as the Canadian Hydrographic Service, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Teleglobe Canada, the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority and law enforcement agencies.

Canadian Coast Guard [CCG] Icebreakers

Ice is a condition of climate that most Canadians live with during a significant part of the year. Its effect on weather and transportation, although most evident in the Arctic, is felt throughout the country. The greatest impact of ice is in large lakes, rivers and estuaries - where annual flooding can cause loss of life and property - and in coastal waters, where delay or redirection of ships could add to transportation costs and possibly jeopardize Canadian competitiveness.

In 1910 Canadian icebreakers were sent for the first time into northern waters to assist in exploring and charting new routes where arctic ice conditions prevailed, and from then on they worked for several seasons more or less successfully - certainly often precariously. The first to go north in 1910 was the Stanley, built in 1888 at Govan, Scotland; the icebreaker Minto, eleven years younger and the product of a Dundee shipyard. Both ships had been designed to carry passengers and freight on the Prince Edward Island ferry run and had only limited icebreaking capability. They were at times defeated by even the relatively light ice encountered in Northumberland Strait; in Hudson Strait the massive fields of arctic ice, often deck high and dotted with miniature icebergs, were many times more formidable. The outbreak of the First World War brought these activities to a halt.

In 1904 a more powerful icebreaker was built at Glasgow, named Montcalm, which displaced 3270 tons and had an engine of 3225 horsepower. She was the workhorse of the fleet for the next 38 years, engaged in icebreaking and other coastal duties in the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the end she too was transferred to Russia in 1942. The first Canadian-built icebreaker, J . D. Hazen, was launched in May 1916 from Vickers' Montreal yards and was an immense improvement ins ize, power, and capability, and was almost immediately sold to the hard-pressed Russians. Later the Canadian government repossessed the ship -at a price- and from then on until 1937 the former J.D.Hazen assisted in keeping the St. Lawrence channel open above Quebec.

The Earl Grey was to outlast all others. Built at Barrow-in-Furness in 1909 for the St. Lawrence winter service, her tonnage (4,600) and power (7,000 HP) were considerably less than those of the Russian Yermak, built the same year, but her speed of 17 knots was 3 knots higher. Under successive Soviet regimes her name was changed more than once, first to Kanada, then to III International, and finally to Fedor Litke.

The Canadian Coast Guard operates a fleet of five icebreakers that guide foreign vessels through Canada's Arctic waters and assist in harbor breakouts, routing, and northern resupply. These icebreakers are often the only federal resource positioned in a particular area of the Arctic, and they must also serve in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic. Some commentators have suggested that Canada requires more "heavy" or "all-season" icebreaker capabilities in order to properly monitor and patrol the area. The Canadian Navy does not currently have the capacity to operate within the Arctic ice.

The Coast Guard's icebreaking activity takes place in three areas -- the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Eastern Arctic and the Western Arctic. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it provides escorts and keeps major shipping lanes open for navigation from the Maritimes to Montreal during the winter months. It also opens harbors to expedite the movement of cargo and fishing vessels. Ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence typically starts forming in early December and spreads eastward toward the Magdalen Islands. The peak of the icebreaking season in the Laurentian Region is in January and February, with demand typically diminishing in March. The peak in the Maritimes Region is normally in late February and March. These different peaks provide opportunities for staggered deployment.

Eastern Arctic operations involve co-ordination and icebreaker support for the sealift which provides food, materials, fuel and equipment to northern settlements and defence sites. Typically, the Eastern Arctic operations deploy six icebreakers. Unlike the Gulf, where it is difficult to anticipate vessel traffic in advance, much of the demand for Arctic escorts is identified by users each spring in an annual planning meeting.

The Coast Guard has divided the area from Montreal to Newfoundland into three ice zones, each serviced by a separate region. The Laurentian, Maritimes and Newfoundland regions each have their own icebreaking fleets which they deploy according to the demands of vessels operating in regional waters. Typically, within a region, an icebreaker may be assigned to a specific geographic sector. However, the Coast Guard was unable to provide us with a national strategy for the three contiguous regions serving the Gulf, or a plan which treated the icebreaking fleet as one Eastern fleet whose deployment could take advantage of the differing regional peak periods.

The Coast Guard states that to provide icebreaking assistance, eight heavy icebreaking vessels are employed and complemented by those aids-to-navigation vessels that have icebreaking capability. The Coast Guard spent about $686 million on the acquisition and modernization of vessels in the 1000-1300 classes from 1983 to 1989. As of 1989 it was projecting an expenditure of $95 million on modernizing the Class 1300 Louis S. St. Laurent and $10.1 million on the Class 1100 Bernier, neither of which had played a major role in the icebreaking programs of their regions in the previous five years.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:32:47 ZULU