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Canadian Coast Guard begins annual icebreaking season on Great Lakes

SARNIA, ON – 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 United States 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.

Icebreaking requests are coordinated by CCG’s Ice Office in Montreal. 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.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, CCG is working closely with organizations and governments, industry, and other partners to make decisions based on the best guidance available from federal, provincial, and municipal health authorities. The safety of our people is our highest priority, and our policies and procedures are flexible and are adapted as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

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.   

All ice surface users should plan their ice activities carefully, use caution on the ice, and avoid shipping lanes and icebreaking operations. Broken and fragmented ice tracks and ridging left behind by passing icebreakers or commercial vessels may not freeze over immediately. This can result in hazardous conditions for ice users. In addition, newly fallen snow will obscure ship tracks. Unsafe ice conditions can persist long after icebreakers have left the area.

Photo: CCGS Samuel Risley performs icebreaking duties on the St. Marys River, Ontario in March 2021. (Canadian Coast Guard)