Coast Guard busy breaking the ice


Two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers have been busy this past month, travelling some 6,467 nautical miles (11,977 kilometres) escorting vessels through the ice, clearing out shipping routes and breaking out ports along Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Carol Launderville, a Canadian Coast Guard communications adviser, said both the CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley have been working to ensure there are safe, navigable paths for maritime commerce through the ice that rapidly-developed on the Great Lakes.

“Our icebreaking service on the lakes and connecting waterways is delivered in close cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard,” she said in an email.

Vessels assisted from December 27 through to January 23 on Lake Huron through to Lake Erie carried various cargoes including iron ore, taconite, cement, grain, coal, gas oil, diesel, steel coils, salt, asphalt, gas products and heavy fuel oils.  

Information provided by Launderville showed the CCGS Griffon, a frequent visitor to Port Colborne, travelled some 3,125 nautical miles (5,788 kilometres) as it completed 36 ice escorts.

Those escorts were mostly convoys of more than one ship trying to make it through the heavier ice from the Detroit River to ports in the western and central basins of Lake Erie.

The Griffon, in operation, since 1970 and classed as a high endurance multi-tasked vessel and light icebreaker, also cleared shipping routes to Erie, PA and to Conneaut and Toledo, OH.

“Lake Erie, being relatively shallow, forms ice fast as the temperatures dip. This ice is then blown around by the winter winds smashing ice floes into one another creating wind-rows, ridges (lines of jagged, thick compressed ice) and rafting ice floes on top of one another resulting in thicker areas of ice,” said Capt. Adriaan Kooiman of the Griffon.

He said the wind-driven ice also poses challenges to icebreakers as it quickly closes up the tracks behind them, making it difficult for cargo ships to follow. 

“This is particularly problematic in the western basin where the water is shallow and the cargo ships have limited room to manoeuvre. As the winter winds on, the predominantly westerly winds push the ice into the east end of the lake creating more wind-rows, ridges and rafting, making the area very challenging to sail through,” Kooiman said.

Launderville said the Risley, in serviced since 1984 and classed as a medium endurance multi-tasked vessel, icebreaker and buoy tender, was escorting vessels from Lake Huron, through to the St. Clair River and down to Detroit.

Like the Griffon, the Risley was assisting convoys and single vessels through or stuck in the ice. It travelled some 3,342 nautical miles (6,189 kilometres) over the last month.

While both Canadian and U.S. coast guard vessels were working to keep marine traffic and commerce moving on the lakes, during the Chamber of Marine Commerce’s annual Marine Club Luncheon, chamber president Bruce Burrows unveiled a wish list for legislative and policymakers on both sides of the border.

His wish list called on the Canadian and American governments to upgrade and expand coast guard icebreaking resources on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system.

“2017 was a year of significant cargo increases fueled by global economic recovery and new business wins by our members. But the difficult season closing as ships struggled to move through the ice after an Arctic-like cold snap reminded us that challenges can arise even in the good years. It underscored the importance of having a competitive, well-resourced and resilient marine transportation system that advances our ambitions to deliver both economic and environmental progress,” he said at the luncheon.