Canada Acts on Icebreaker Shortage


The Government of Canada has moved to acquire additional icebreaking vessels to supplement its existing fleet of aging icebreakers. Three icebreaking anchor handling tug supply vessels are anticipated to be repurposed by Davie Shipbuilding in preparation for joining the existing Coast Guard fleet for the 2018-2019 ice season. 

The government's action was initiated by Public Services and Procurement Canada last month. Competing shipyards had two weeks to challenge that decision and demonstrate they could deliver ships with similar or better capabilities.

The vessels, Tor Viking, Balder Viking and Vider Viking, are Polar Class 4 and were built in 2000. They represent a short term solution to the Canadian Coast Guard’s growing demand for icebreaking services for Canada’s Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence, Saguenay and Eastern Canadian waters as well as the Canadian Arctic. The multipurpose vessels also respond to the 1990 Brander-Smith report which recommended the Government of Canada acquire powerful tugs, capable of towing disabled tankers and other ships away from environmentally-sensitive areas.

The Company of Master Mariners of Canada (MMC) has welcomed news of the three vessels, but says the trio of ships is neither the final nor the ultimate solution to the icebreaker capacity required for Canada. New vessels with modern propulsion systems will be required to meet Canadian emissions requirements beyond 2020 and up to 2050 which may present a challenge for both the existing Canadian Coast Guard fleet and the trio. “Shipbuilding and ship repair are assured for Canadian yards for the foreseeable future,” said the MMC, urging the Government of Canada to decide quickly on options available for the permanent acquisition of new icebreakers.

Captain Christopher Hearn, President of MMC said: “Our organization has many members who work on both Coast Guard ships providing ice breaking as well as ships that require this specialized service. As an organization that is reflective of the expertise in navigating in ice covered waters, the MMC continues to advocate for recognition of the unique operational challenges and personnel competency of the Canadian shipping industry.”