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Canadian Coast Guard assures “extraordinary measures” precede start of Arctic shipping season

By Leo Ryan, Editor

The Canadian Coast Guard stresses that it has applied “extraordinary measures” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in advance of the 2020 Arctic icebreaking season that kicks off on June 22.

“Throughout this pandemic, the Canadian Coast Guard has taken extraordinary measures to protect our employees and the general public as we continue to perform essential services for Canadians and mariners,” declared Jeremy Hennessy, spokesman for Central and Arctic regions, Fisheries and Oceans Canada in an emailed statement to Maritime Magazine.

Responding to a question on a key matter, he said: “We are working with local health authorities and third parties regarding testing for all crew members prior to their deployment, and ensure our protocols remain in line with the expert advice.”

The CCG spokesman did not comment directly on a media report (La Presse, June 9) of a number of crew members allegedly threatening, in a message dated May 25, not to come on board if they did not undergo testing before the vessel departure. A separate report by Radio Canada pointed to some mariners worried about going North without a test because of the time it could require to receive medical assistance.

Pursuing his comments, Mr. Hennessy said: “We have already implemented a suite of measures to protect crew members, including pre-screening, body temperature screening, and health questionnaires. Any crew members showing symptoms of COVID-19 have been directed to stay home and get tested.”

Throughout deployments, the health of crew members will be closely monitored through regular body temperature screening. “While aboard the vessel,” Mr. Hennessy continued, “all common areas are sanitized daily, and all crew are provided with personal protective equipment where their work makes social distancing impossible. There will be no community visits (shore leaves) or contact with community members, except in the case of an emergency.”

He also pointed out that “our crews have been sailing CCG ships every day of the COVID pandemic, keeping Canadians safe and ensuring the flow of Canadian commerce. We are confident that preparations for the Arctic season will ensure this continues during our vital missions of community re-supply and ice escorts.”

The icebreaking season runs until November. Eight CCG icebreakers are scheduled to be deployed this season to support northern communities and operational and program commitments. The CCGS Pierre Radisson is to depart from Quebec City on June 22 as is the CCGS Terry Fox from St. John’s, NL.

The icebreaking services are of critical importance for such major Arctic sealift carriers as Groupe Desgagnés and NEAS. In this regard, Louise Bédard, Executive Director of the St. Lawrence Shipoperators, told Maritime Magazine: “We are watching the situation very closely. There can be big problems for shipping lines and the communities they serve if the icebreakers, for any reason, are not there in time to open a passage. Things operate on a very tight schedule.”

(photo Canadian Coast Guard)