Lack of ships, scientists “unable to go to sea”

Scientists urge the federal government to review its strategy to renew the fleet of vessels dedicated to science. “We need to discuss it urgently,” they say, especially in the context of the fight against climate change.

Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, the United States: There are many countries that can count or will soon be counting on modern research icebreakers.

The missing person on this list is Canada, which carries out its scientific missions aboard two aging ships, only one of which is open to university researchers.

The case of the CCGS Amundsen is undoubtedly the best known in the Quebec City region. The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker divides its time between research and its conventional icebreaking activities.

This leaves too little time for scientists to carry out their missions. More than 200 days of research have been canceled since 2015.

The request is about 250 days of research per year, less than half of which will be honored this year, says Louis Fortier, project director at Amundsen Science. “If we go for 120 days, it’ll be fine. ”

What are we doing? What are we waiting for to equip ourselves with a pair of modern research icebreakers?

 Louis Fortier, scientific manager at Amundsen Science

The ship may be requisitioned at any time by the Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, 100% dedicated research vessels, such as Polarstern (Germany), RV Sikuliaq (Alaska) or Kronprins Haakon (Norway), offer 300 days for scientists.

Coast Guard managers also have a say in the activities of the icebreaker.

In 2019, for example, the CCGS Amundsen was scheduled to participate in a major mission around Greenland.

“We could not do it in the end, because the managers were worried that the ship could be damaged,” explains Fortier, who deplores the erosion of Canadian leadership.

In this regard, the oceanographer observes a loss of expertise in the Coast Guard.

“We have lost both the corporate memory of the Amundsen project and now decisions are made by people who have very little experience at sea.”

“Empty 15 to 20 years”

To meet the demand, both local and international, the scientific community believes that a solution must be found quickly.

There is no question of waiting for the implementation of the shipbuilding strategy for the renewal of icebreakers.

Because by the time boats are built, Canada will have years of research lagging behind.

“It creates a vacuum 15 to 20 years [because one is no longer able to go to sea,” adds Fortier, pointing out that research needs are increasing, especially in the Arctic. “The private sector is very worried.”

In his opinion, Canada, bordered by three oceans, “has no choice” to do research. “Strategically, we can not take the research results of other countries. ”

Building abroad

The Université Laval researcher has already proposed to build ships abroad in partnership with the private sector. One way to reduce delays and costs, according to him. But the proposal did not receive a response from Ottawa, he said.

The same is true of the conversion of the polaricebreaker Aiviq , suggested by the Davie shipyard as part of its Resolute project.

Scientists are therefore mobilizing across the country to put pressure on the federal government.

On the Atlantic side, universities do not have access to any research vessels and experience problems similar to those of Amundsen oceanographers.

One of the few possibilities is to conduct expedition missions aboard CCGS Hudson, a ship built in 1962.

The latter had to be replaced (New window) , but the construction was delayed and still has no schedule.

Douglas Wallace, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, believes it is high time that the federal government, the private sector and the scientific community sit down together to discuss this issue.

“It has to be done in the next year,” he says.

Without questioning the icebreaker fleet renewal program, scientists hope to find a way to fill this void in the short term.

“All solutions need to be studied,” says Wallace. Buy, build abroad, peel the fleet available in the country or convert a ship for research, nothing should be excluded.

Opening in Ottawa

At the dawn of an election year, Justin Trudeau’s government is open to the discussion proposed by scientists.

This is the opinion of the cabinet of Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, joined by Radio-Canada.

Its press officer, Jocelyn Lubczuk, recalled the implementation of the $ 1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan. However, according to the researchers, it would be difficult to deploy it to its full potential with the current fleet.

Ms. Lubcuzk conceded that no project was planned to meet the demands of the scientific community in the short term.

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