Canadian Coast Guard Begins Great Lakes Icebreaking
The Canadian Coast Guard's (CCG) annual icebreaking season on the Great Lakes, which provides assistance to the shipping industry, is underway. Working in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) District 9, the CCG has two icebreakers assigned to the Great Lakes for the entire winter season: CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley. These vessels are supported as required by additional CCG vessels after the St. Lawrence Seaway reopens in March 2022.
Although the St. Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal and Sault Ste. Marie Locks are closed during the winter months, shipping is still active on the Great Lakes and connecting waterways, including Lake Erie, Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River, Lake Huron, St. Marys River, and Georgian Bay.
Icebreaking requests are coordinated by CCG's Ice Office in Montreal. In 2020-2021, in Central Region including the Great Lakes, the Canadian Coast Guard responded to 195 requests for icebreaking. Over the same time period, both Coast Guards directly assisted 156 ship transits on the Great Lakes. Between December 21, 2020, and April 4, 2021 (last day of icebreaking), CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley traveled 13,740 nautical miles escorting commercial vessels through the ice, opening shipping routes and breaking out ports throughout the Great Lakes.
CCG and USCG officials hold daily operational conference calls with industry representatives to provide updates on ice extent, concentration and thickness. Environment and Climate Change Canada provides regular updates on ice conditions through satellite imagery and ice reconnaissance flights, using both CCG and USCG helicopters.
Marine Communications and Traffic Services in Sarnia, ON, and Prescott, ON, are in contact with mariners 24-hours-a-day providing information, managing marine traffic and responding to calls for assistance. Winter maritime search and rescue operations are coordinated by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, ON. CCG icebreakers and other vessels may be called upon to help. Aircraft from the Department of National Defence and USCG are also involved in maritime search and rescue operations, as necessary.
In addition to icebreaking for the shipping industry, both Coast Guards work to prevent the formation of ice jams and flooding in communities. Problems occur when ice accumulates and blocks the flow of a river. That obstruction, known as an ice jam or ice plug, can cause flooding as water builds up and overflows the banks. Coast Guard ships are also at the ready to respond to environmental incidents or other urgent or humanitarian emergencies.
Mario Pelletier, Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, said, "Year after year, the Canadian Coast Guard provides its essential icebreaking services; a direct contributor to Canada's economy and maritime commerce. Along with the United States Coast Guard, our icebreaking services support and allow both economies to continue to grow, ensuring maritime shipping on the Great Lakes can be done efficiently and safely. The Canadian Coast Guard is proud to support industry and communities, and to play an integral role in safety across the Great Lakes."