Mark Collins – Canadian Coast Guard Going Down

Our politicians and media largely ignore–unlike their constant focus on military procurements–our mostly silent (civilian) service, to its great detriment. Now the awful facts described in a major government report tabled in February are reported:

Report raises alarm over Canada’s aging coast guard fleet
Review for Transport Canada calls for urgent renewal of ships that are among oldest in the world

A report done for Transport Canada and quietly tabled in the House of Commons paints a grim portrait of the country’s coast guard fleet, saying it is understaffed, desperately in need of new ships and without political support.

The comprehensive analysis of the nation’s transportation network was part of a statutory review submitted to the Trudeau government last December, but not tabled until the end of the February [see p. 222 PDF here and note the graphics on p. 223].

Arctic rescue fears loom
Coast guard tests drone
Davie shipyard bids for coast guard build

Among other things, it noted that unplanned maintenance on aging coast guard vessels skyrocketed in 2014.

“Not only is it understaffed, but its fleet is one of the oldest in the world and urgently requires renewal (individual ships average nearly 34 years of age [emphasis added, here is the CCG’s fleet webpage]),” said the review of the Canadian Transportation Act, which was led by former Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson. “Without such renewal, it will have to pull ships from service, further reducing reliability.”

The independent report, which was accepted by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, also notes that the hands of coast guard service were tied by the previous Conservative government when it comes to buying new ships.

One ship a year

Under the national shipbuilding and procurement strategy, which requires the Canadian Coast Guard to purchase ships from Canadian shipyards, it can only replace one ship a year, at most [emphasis added],” said the review [and from 2013: “Just Announced New Canadian Coast Guard Vessels Overpriced by Factor of Five” (those vessels won’t be built until after the icebreaker, sometime in the mid-2020s–see “Never Never Land” link below)].

“At that rate, the median age of the fleet will not decrease. Other strategies, such as outsourcing or leasing, are not part of the strategy and thus cannot be deployed to meet short-term requirements.”

The report warned that coast guard icebreaking services in Arctic are decreasing, while vessel traffic in the region is increasing [and only one new icebreaker is planned! see “Why not more Canadian Coast Guard Icebreakers Instead of RCN JSS?“]. It blames the number of breakdowns on underfunding of maintenance by the Conservatives and a general neglect by politicians in Ottawa.

“Indeed, for such a critical piece of transportation infrastructure, the Canadian Coast Guard is not receiving the political attention, or the administrative and financial resources it requires,” the report said…

Vancouver-based Seaspan Shipyards is planning to build the replacement vessels, and is one of two companies designated as the federal government’s go-to shipbuilders. The first in a series of science vessels is already under construction [see: “New Canadian Coast Guard Vessels: Sticker Shock and Never Never Land (media scrutiny?)“], but the major project to build a heavy icebreaker is not expected to get underway until the 2020-21 time frame [with delivery now 2022-23–see “Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Acquisitions Sliding Right“; note that in the “Canadian Coast Guard Business Plan 2010-2013…Updating the Coast Guard’s Long-term Fleet Renewal Plan” the science vessels were supposed to be under construction in 2012-13].

Last month, Quebec-based Davie Shipyards, which was shut out of the shipbuilding strategy, dropped on the desk of Procurement Minister Judy Foote a roughly $1.7 billion unsolicited proposal to build — or repurpose — a fleet of icebreakers and support ships for the coast guard. The plan was rejected by the Liberal government [see “Davie Québec Wants to Build Icebreaker for, Unload Other Vessels on, Canadian Coast Guard“]…

The question in the title of this post just after the new cabinet was sworn in last year has so far not been answered in the affirmative, to be charitable:

Canadian Coast Guard Gets Cabinet Recognition–Mean Anything?

Unlike its US counterpart the CCG is a completely civilian organization (without police powers and itself unarmed although its vessels do carry armed RCMP and Fisheries Officers); it’s a Special Operating Agency within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Most Canadians not on the east and west coasts, and at certain places on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, have almost no knowledge of the CCG and what it does. The same, sadly, holds true for vast swaths of the federal bureaucracy and most of our media.

Now we read this

However being under the radar does allow some CCG acquisitions to be done rapidly:

Bell Rung: All 15 Canadian Coast Guard Light Helos Delivered

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


5 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Canadian Coast Guard Going Down”

  1. And a comment on the CCG at

    “Lack of funding, a senior management that is more less dysfunctional, a bias against anyone not from the {CCG] college and coming up the hawsepipe in regards to supporting their career advancement. The management is slowly slitting their own throats in regards to doing little out of their mandate. When you try to get a tasking they make it very difficult, once they even wanted to bill us the entire cost of the ship, when we offered to cover any excess cost like OT and fuel. It was cheaper to hire a charter crew boat. It’s not the crews, they love to get out and do new things and go new places. Most of the initiatives you see like diving, swimmer, rescue specialist were driven by the crew members and not the management or senior officers. CCG has some great talent and dedicated crews despite the organization, not because of it.”,122642.msg1429408.html#msg1429408

    CCG College:

    Mark Collins

  2. Keeping this ship from going down, as it were–modernizing an ancient CCG ‘breaker–note final para on what is done in the winter:

    “ABB Breathes New Life into Canadian Icebreaker

    ABB modernization to extend service of 38-year-old Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker; upgrade includes improved connectivity and eight new drives

    ABB will modernize a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, installing the latest hardware and software onboard the 38 year old Pierre Radisson. As part of the complete upgrade to the ship’s power distribution system, eight new drives will also be installed. The contract includes the option to modernize the other two Coast Guard ships, Des Groseilliers and Amundsen, both of which have clocked up more than 30 years of service…

    Design and supply work is scheduled to begin immediately and installation and commissioning is expected to be finished by June 2017. In winter, the Pierre Radisson breaks ice and escorts ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the St. Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers. In summer, the ship travels to the Canadian Arctic to escort commercial ships, serve as a primary search and rescue unit and provide support to scientific missions when possible…”

    Keep ’em going to the half century or something as only that one new one is planned.

    Work likely to be done at Davie, Quebec:

    Mark Collins

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