Last September, a Danish commercial ship named Nordic Orion became the first cargo vessel to use the Northwest Passage. The Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy are not ready to either protect that passage nor deploy any fast Search and Rescue teams in case of any type of emergencies. Unfortunately, the hoist capable SAR teams comes from British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario. The SAR choppers have a 2500 km flight to the Passage, and the CC130 Hercules are aging and cannot hoist people onboard.
I am not going to elaborate on Russia’s capabilities in the Arctic, but let me tell you that we are far behind. For example, Russia has several search-and-rescue stations along their Arctic borders and still are building 10 more, with both helicopter and ship capabilities. Canada is still waiting on their first deep-water port in Resolute Bay, a project announced in 2007, but has been postponed until 2017. Let’s be honest about something here, we are putting our nose in every possible conflict around the globe but we cannot even protect our own backyard, which proves to be one of the biggest oil fields and diamond mines in the world.
Having the Northwest Passage open for commercial ships could be a disaster for the environment especially with our poor reaction time. Even worse, a sinking ship could wait for several hours, even up to a day before having any type of SAR helicopters or ships coming to their help. On Monday, September 9, the Captain of the CCGS Amundsen, Marc Thibault along with the pilot Daniel Dubé and scientist Klaus Hochheim were killed in an Arctic helicopter crash while scouting ahead of the icebreaker and it took several hours for the CCGS Amundsen to reach and retrieve them from the 420 metre-deep water. There were no SAR elements nearby and ready to intervene at a short notice unfortunately.
Knowing that, can we say that Canada is ready to both defend and enforce their sovereignty in the Arctic? It’s pretty obvious that we can’t. On the National Defence webpage we can read: “As activity in Canada’s Arctic accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this potentially resource-rich region. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) must have the capacity to conduct training exercises and execute operations in the Arctic, and to continue to help other government agencies respond to any challenges that may arise.” But how can we operate without even a deep-water port? That is the question …