Canadian Icebreaker Design Contract Awarded

Tim Colton’s “Maritime Memos” reports STX Canada Marine has been awarded a $9.5M contract to design Canada’s new icebreaker and goes on to make a suggestion:

“Say, Dave, could you please design it so that it meets the US Coast Guard’s requirements as well?  Then maybe Vancouver Shipyards could build four of them, one for you and three for us?  Why is Canada only building one, anyway, when you obviously need at least three?”

Lots of other good stuff there as well including: new Navy AGOR, Congress on harbor maintenance, changes in the Navy’s ship building programs.

Denmark Supports China Permanent Observer Status at Arctic Council

Canadian media reports Denmark has told China that they support China’s application for permanent observer status on the eight member Arctic Council (Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and the United States).

As a great maritime trading nation, China certainly has an interest in the possibility of shortening the shipping route between Europe and Asia, but their interest goes beyond that:

Wright ( University of Calgary history professor David Wright)… points out that Chinese scholars are examining Canada’s claims of historical sovereignty over the Arctic, especially in regard to the Northwest Passage. China, he says, wants the Arctic, with its sea passages, oil and natural gas wealth, minerals and fishing stocks, to be international territory or the ‘shared heritage of humankind.’…Such a view is contrary to Canada’s insistence on its territorial sovereignty of the Arctic islands and the waterways between them.” (emphasis applied)

As noted earlier Canadian and US interest don’t exactly coincide here, with the Canadians claiming sections of the Northwest Passage as internal waters, while the US considers them an international strait. The Canadian position that they have the right to deny passage bears some resemblance to the position China has taken with regard to its EEZ. The Chinese position, claiming “indisputable” sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, while considering the Arctic the “shared heritage of humankind” smacks of the the old saying, “What’s mine is mine; what’s yours is negotiable.”

Canadian Icebreaker, Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship, Shipyard “Rationalization”

As we noted earlier the Canadians are embarking on a major ship building program. A lot is riding on the choice of two shipyards that will be responsible for virtually all the work.

Most interesting for Coast Guard readers is that they will be building a large icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard and six to eight “Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships” which can operate in the North West Passage in the Summer months in addition to serving as conventional offshore patrol vessels based on the Norwegian Coast Guard ship Svalbard (These ships are going to the Navy).  Background here, here, and here.

The selection has been made and the Irving Shipyard in Halifax, NS, will get the contract for 15 combat vessels and the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, worth a total of about C$25B. Seaspan Shipyard, in Vancouver, BC, will build non-combat vessels, valued at approximately C$8B, including those for the Coast Guard as well as oceanographic and fisheries research vessels.

(A note of thanks to Ken White for keeping me up to date on this and providing the illustrations below.)

Icebreaker Envy

Ryan Erickson has published the Arctic SAR boundaries on the Naval Institute Blog. Looking at this chart got me thinking about ice capable ships. That of course lead to looking for similar information on Antarctica, so this is going to be a survey of What nations are interested in the Polar regions? and What do their ice capable fleets look like?

Continue reading

Russia and Canada in the Arctic

Interesting Article here from Christian Science Monitor updating the Russian (and Canadian) positions on claims in the Arctic, including an expected 380,000 square mile continental shelf claim by the Russians and a statement that they are planning on building six new icebreakers.

This is a bit older, but talks about Canada’s ship building plans including a new icebreaker, CCGS_John_G._Diefenbaker, and up to eight ice strengthened Arctic Patrol Ships.

Photo left: Norwegian Svalbard, basis of the design for Canada’s Arctic Patrol Ships.

Related: Arctic Patrol Cutter State of the Art

More News From the North–An Armed Canadian Coast Guard?

Related Posts:

Ryan Erickson’s blog pointed out an article in the Vancouver Sun reporting that the Canadians are considering arming their icebreakers as a way to “bolster Arctic sovereignty.”

This was in response to “recommendations in a report from the Senate fisheries committee about strengthening Canada’s presence in the North.”

“The government also has indicated that it will review new shipping regulations in the Northwest Passage and other Arctic waters with an eye to extending mandatory registration of foreign vessels, which currently applies only to large freighters and other heavy ships, to all foreign-ship traffic in the region, regardless of size.”

Ryan links the report to the 1985 transit of the North West Passage by the Polar Sea, in which the USCG icebreaker transited what the Canadians consider their internal waters and what the US considers an international strait, after the US gave notification of our intention, rather than asking permission.

Since then, basically the US and the Canadians have agreed to disagree. Currently the US and Canada have an agreement that allows access to US military ships. They have given us blanket permission and we have said we will give notification.

For the US Navy this is a matter of avoiding a precedence that could close off access elsewhere.

For the Coast Guard, our interests are a little different, perhaps closer to that of the Canadians. We want Maritime Domain Awareness. We want ships to give notice of their intentions, and ultimately that has to mean we need some options to deny access, but the international norms are still being set.

The talk of arming Canadian icebreakers leads to the question, will the Canadian Coast Guard be transformed by it’s new mission to more closely parallel the military organization of the USCG. There has already been a question about whether the Canadian Navy or their Coast Guard would man the proposed Arctic Patrol Ship since they would be armed, unlike current Canadian cutters.

Passages North

56 years ago, on 4 September 1954, the icebreakers USCGC Northwind and USS Burton Island completed the first transit of the Northwest passage through McClure Strait.

There has been a lot more activity in the North lately (more here and here), with the promise that if the melting continues, passages from Northern Europe to Asia may be cut by up to half (link includes a nice comparisons of the routes). The Russians expect to make some money on fees for passage and the use of their icebreakers.

There is even talk that it may substantially hurt business at the Suez Canal and allow ships to avoid pirates off Somalia. Looks like that is still a few years off since the season is very limited and only ice strengthened vessels can use the route now.

Still other people are planning ahead. China is building their second polar icebreaker and positioning itself to exploit the Arctic. Maybe a little healthy competition is the wake up call we need.

Ramblings on “Maritime Domain Awareness”

Some random thoughts on “Maritime Domain Awareness,” prompted by a Congressional mandate, Canada’s recent action regarding the North West Passage, and China’s “enforcement” of their EEZ.
“Maritime Domain Awareness.” It is a nice catch phrase, but where are we going with this? What is the objective? What level of detail is enough?

We want ships bound for US ports to report their intentions, what if they don’t? What’s the punishment? What about those that pass just outside our territorial sea, and might suddenly veer into a US port,  but aren’t required to check in? Are we being effective, or is this yet another attempt to be seen to be doing something, that is actually nothing more than an inconvenience to the law abiding mariners while making us no safer?
Having read Ryan’s article about the Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, this amendment caught my eye:

H.AMDT.472 to H.R.3619 Section 1332 -“Directs the Secretary to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat the illicit flow of narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband through the use of submersible and semi-submersible vessels.”

My first reaction–I foolishly assumed that what was being mandated was a system that would have a high probability of detecting any submersible or semi-submersible approaching the US.

–I would love to see us have this capability.
–All our other “Maritime Domain Awareness” problems are likely to be solved by any system that could do this.
–Let’s see, we would need a field of acoustic sensors wrapped around the US coast line, and then we would need some visual way to identify the contacts picked up–we could probably use UAVs for that…

But then–Do they have any idea how incredibly hard this is? This may be harder than tracking Ballistic Missile submarines. The Navy with all their resources can’t do this. We can’t even monitor our land border. It could easily require the entire CG budget.

Maybe the Secretary’s plan ought to be to “let the Navy do it.”

My next thought–Even having read it, I don’t really know what it means. Looking at it again, are we talking about these craft coming into US waters? Or are we expected to stop this illegal traffic wherever it exists, if the fruits of the trade might end up in the US? It’s not specific. As I understand it, most of these semisubmersibles go to Mexico, not directly to the US.

And finally, what is the point, if we are not also monitoring every sail and motor boat who might also bring in “narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband?”
Then the Canadian government put the world on notice that ships entering that country’s Arctic waters will be subject to new mandatory vessel-tracking rules aimed at preventing terrorist activity and pollution while improving search-and-rescue capabilities in the Far North. The Canadian plan requires mandatory registration for ships of 300 tonnes or more, for tugs with a two-ship weight of 500 tonnes or more and for any vessel carrying dangerous goods or potential pollutants. Read more here and here. For an overview of the Canadian position, link here.
Then there are the Chinese, whose interpretation of the Law of the Sea, seems very different from our own. They seem to view the EEZ as little different from their territorial sea–a bit of history. Very recently they objected to our exercising with South Korea in the Yellow Sea even though presumably the exercises would not have even entered their EEZ. The Chinese have also been harassing the Japanese Coast Guard in their own EEZ (more here and here). The US Naval Institute blog is discussing the latest flap between the US and China in an article entitled “Poking China in the Chest.” The Chinese have been making a lot of friends lately and they are a member of the security council, so don’t be surprised to see something like their view of the rights of coastal states being raised in the UN.
I think we are going to see more changes to the EEZ. I can see points like this being made:

–How can you argue with the desire to limit pollution and quickly respond to maritime disasters as the Canadians state they want to do?
–How can a state monitor the economic exploitation of their EEZ if they don’t know who is there? Is a requirement to report entry into the EEZ any different from requiring name, flag, and homeport be displayed?
How could anyone engaged in legitimate activity object?
–Isn’t preventing terrorism an element of managing economic resources within the EEZ? Can’t we say the same about preventing a Naval attack?

While the Navy will probably want none of this, as the Coast Guard, there might be elements worth considering here.


It would be nice to have a system that showed us everything within the EEZ, but it is unlikely we will see that anytime soon.

In addition to getting projected ETA at our ports, if we were prepared to accept, catalog, store, and redistribute the information to those who could use the information, it might be helpful to ask all vessels entering our EEZ to identify themselves, to help us classify the contacts we do detect, but under the present regime I don’t think we have any recourse, if those who claim to be in innocent passage refuse.

Short of a robust detection capability to find those not reporting, additional reporting may be only a paper exercise of little utility. If the detection capability were truly robust, we would not need reporting.

The weapons of mass destruction we worry about, as well as “narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband,” are not limited to large ships or semisubmersibles. They can come in on boats that appear no different from the thousands of recreational boats that enter and leave our harbors every day.