Friday, January 17, 2020

Buoy oh buoy

Due to the many rocky shoals and shallows, navigation into and out of Halifax harbour requires skill and knowledge. Harbour pilots have this in abundance, and coupled with their use of radar and satellite technology, they make hundreds of safe transits every year.

However not all mariners using the port have that skill and local knowledge. And surely there are times when the radar and Satnav may not be working. In such cases finding the channels and maintaining a safe course may have to rely on such centuries old devices as buoys and lighthouses.

Unless of course that century is the 21st and the year is 2020 and the time is right now.
I have it that at least three buoys and one lighthouse are currently unlit and have been so since before Christmas. Although these failures were reported to the CG nothing has been done to make repairs.

The Canadian Coast Guard has the responsibility for maintaining what are known as NAVAIDS (Aids to Navigation) and has its base right in Halifax harbour, at the Bedford Institute.

Under the jurisdiction of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Bedford Institute is also the Canadian Coast Guard base.
The buoy maintenance and repair facility is right here in the port and is to the left in the photo.

The buoy yard at the old Coast Guard base in Dartmouth (seen here in 1977) was relocated to the Bedford Institute when the old Coast Guard base  was shut down.

Even though the CCG is responsible for maintaining the buoys and lights in Halifax harbour (and throughout much of Nova Scotia and beyond) I cannot place all the blame for this on the CCG. Thanks to government policy (or lack of it) they have been chronically underfunded and under resourced for years. With aged ships constantly in need of repairs and the others stretched thin, it is no wonder there is a waiting list for work. Nevertheless working Navaids should be essential in a busy harbour.

There are three Navaids ships based in Halifax, but with multi-tasking required of CCG ships these days all are also expected to do Search and Rescue and icebreaking, so are only part time Navaids vessels. So where are these ships now?

CCGS Sir William Alexander has been undergoing a lengthy in water refit at the Bedford Institute, that included rebuilding its crane. Despite some sea trials recently, the ship has not yet returned to service.

CCGS Edward Cornwallis 

In December the ship was sent to the Great Lakes to cover the closing of the St.Lawrence Seaway. Presumably this was to break ice and prevent a recurrence of late season blockages, or maybe to lift some summer buoys.  This trip must have been to cover for a ship in the Central Region that was unavailable.

The Edward Cornwallis was then sent to the Gulf of St.Lawrence for ice breaking and is currently in Sydney., NS.

CCGS Earl Grey

The Earl Grey has been at work icebreaking in Newfoundland, as far north as the Strait of Belle Isle and now in Botwood. Again it is probably covering for a ship from the Newfoundland region that is unavailable. CCGS Ann Harvey, which ran aground in 2015 and was extensively rebuilt afterwards may or may not be in service.

The federal government has finally decided on how they will get around to building replacements for these three ships (and several others including heavy icebreakers) by going with Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec. In one way this was a good decision - Davie has the physical capacity  to build the ships and a very thin order book. However they have no recent experience building icebreakers and no track record of building multi ships orders, quickly. Yes they should be building two or three (or four or more) big icebreakers but that is it.
In order to re-equip the CCG quickly with smaller ships, there needs to be at least one more shipyard brought into the equation. There is the skeleton of a shipyard in St.Catharines, ON, the former Port Weller Dry Dock. To re-equip it to build ten to twelve new navaids ships would be worth the investment if a suitable operator was selected. (The federal government already owns the drydock and land). Heddle Marine thinks they are capable of operating such a yard,but a proper selection process is still needed. Particularly if it is a build / maintain contract, a dedicated CCG shipyard might be worth considering.

But back to Halifax. There is no doubt that the CCG is in need of many replacement ships, but is that the reason why Halifax harbour navigation aids are being neglected?

Perhaps the old question could be asked - how many Coast Guard ships does it take to change a light bulb?


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