As Canada Moves to Add Icebreaking Capability, USS Little Rock is Stuck in Montreal
By DAVID PUGLIESE, Special Correspondent
VICTORIA, British Columbia, Canada — Faced with a lack of icebreaking capability, the Canadian government has entered into negotiations to covert several former oil industry vessels into icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.
Under the plan, the icebreakers, originally built for Shell for use in Arctic operations, would be brought to Davie Shipbuilding in the province of Quebec for upgrades to allow them to be used by the Coast Guard.
Heavy ice conditions this season have created havoc on Canadian waterways and in the U.S.-Canada St. Lawrence Seaway. Ferries in Quebec have been trapped in ice and have had to be towed to shore.
Other vessels also have been sidelined because of ice conditions. The littoral combat ship USS Little Rock has been stuck in the port of Montreal since Dec. 24 because of heavy ice. The U.S. Navy will leave the Freedom-class ship in Montreal until conditions improve, but that could be until mid-March.
The ship was commissioned in Buffalo, N.Y., and stopped in Montreal for a brief port visit on its way to its homeport in Florida. But extreme cold weather in December led to the formation of heavier ice, trapping the vessel. Heaters and de-icers have been set up to reduce ice accumulation on Little Rock’s hull.
The crew has been issued with cold-weather clothing and will focus on mission training while they wait for ice conditions to ease up, according to U.S. Navy officials. The Navy has stated the delay would have limited operational impact.
Various commercial organizations repeatedly have warned the Canadian government that its lack of icebreakers could have a significant economic impact on the country.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told journalists his government now is dealing with the problem. Negotiations with Davie in Levis, Quebec, started Jan. 19 on a plan to boost icebreaking capability.
“It’s good news,” Trudeau said. “We’re entering negotiations, but we think we will be able to find a solution.”
Davie had earlier proposed to the Canadian government the acquisition of four existing icebreakers that had been built for Shell.
MV Aiviq, a Polar-class icebreaker, was originally built in the United States and the other three, built in Norway, are considered medium icebreakers. Davie has an option in place to acquire all of the vessels.
Company officials say that conversion of the three medium icebreakers for Canadian Coast Guard operations could be done quickly.
Canadian government and Davie representatives are discussing the best way forward. Options could include the government leasing the icebreakers from Davie or acquiring them outright and having Davie handle any conversion for Coast Guard operations.
It is not known how long negotiations would last or when icebreakers could be made available to the Canadian Coast Guard.
The Canadian government outlined its plans in 2012 to build a new fleet of icebreakers, including a Polar-class vessel for Arctic operations. Those plans include the construction of a Polar-class icebreaker at Seaspan shipyards in Vancouver, B.C., but at this point that project is only in its design stage. The vessel is not expected to be in the water until the mid-2020s.
Last year, Davie converted a commercial container ship, MV Asterix, into a supply vessel for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Under the five-year lease arrangement, a Davie-affiliated company is providing the ship and crew to operate the vessel. RCN Sailors are on board to conduct resupply and refueling of warships at sea.
MV Asterix now is undergoing sea trials and is expected to be ready to support RCN operations starting in the spring.