CASR | Arctic Futures | Background | Modest Proposal
| In Detail | Editorials
CASR – Canadian American Strategic Review –
Arctic Sovereignty – Military Readiness
– Heavy Icebreakers – 29 August 2008
Capers and Capabilities — While Canadian Leaders talk about Arctic
Sovereignty, Vessels from
other Nations Cut Through Arctic Waters
Canadian Political Posturing vs Danish
Air, Land, & Sea - Based Capabilities
Harper wary of Russia's unilateral moves to secure
its strategic interests
On 19 September 2008, before heading north to Iqaluit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:
"We are concerned [that] Russian actions in other parts of the world ... may indicate some desire
to work outside the international framework ... that is why we are taking a range of
measures – including military measures – to strengthen our
[ Arctic ] sovereignty." (CP)
Summertime and the travelling is easy in the High Arctic – but Denmark is here year round
August has been a month of showmanship for Canadian Arctic sovereignty. More than 600 members of
the Canadian Forces participated in Operation Nanook 2008, launched in Iqaluit on 19 August
by Defence Minister Peter MacKay. Simultaneously, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had
embarked on a northern sovereignty junket of his own through the western Arctic.
Prime Minister Harper has been talking tough. To his original "use it or lose it"
statement about the Arctic, Mr. Harper added "to protect the North, we must control the
North". This comment was made
in Inuvik, prior to Mr. Harper boarding a Canadian Forces
Hercules aircraft for the short hop  to the town of Tuktoyaktuk on the shores
of the Arctic Ocean. A few days before the many excitements of
a Prime Ministerial arrival, Tuktoyaktuk
had a lower- profile visitor that few will have noticed. In the third week of August, a modest,
blue-hulled ship dropped anchor off of Tuk to refuel and take on supplies. There is nothing very remarkable
about that – but this vessel's story is worth telling.
Telecommunications & other kinds of Infrastructure are Required in areas of Low Density
The vessel at anchor offshore was a Danish cable laying ship, the M/V Peter Faber (left). The 78.4
metre long Peter Faber displaces 2584 tonnes and has a draught of just 5 metres. Despite a relatively shallow
draught, the port of Tuktoyaktuk remains just beyond reach – as it is for any ocean-going
craft other than barges. As a result, even smaller vessels like the Peter Faber are forced
to anchor offshore and then be supplied by tug-and-barge.
Suffice to say, by southern Canadian standards, conditions in the Tuktoyaktuk region – indeed,
throughout the Mackenzie Delta generally – are challenging and most existing infrastructure in
the area is primitive. Extensive dredging is done in the Mackenzie River itself but this is not at all practical in
the open water of the Arctic – each year, 128 million tonnes of sediment
from the Mackenzie River pours into Mackenzie Bay. 
So, the M/V Peter Faber sat 37 km off the coast and awaited provisions. A bare minimum of food
supplies were taken on – even having re-provisioned in famously-expensive Japan, the crew were staggered by the
high grocery prices of the NWT. Anyway, more critical stocks were the fuel and lubricants for the coming
journey. And it is where the M/V Peter Faber had come from and where she was going that is of most
Denmark Improves its Infrastructure and other Nations Benefit – including
M/V Peter Faber (which is owned by Alcatel Marine, Copenhagen) is to participate in laying
telecommunications cables connecting Newfoundland to Greenland and then on to Iceland. Unfortunately, when the
contract was announced, the Peter Faber was on the other side of the globe. In early August, the ship left Keelung in
Taiwan – where another Alcatel cable-layer is home-based – and headed for Hakodate, Japan where two
Canadian 'ice pilots' were picked up.
Leaving Japan, the Peter Faber sailed along the Kurils and Kamchatka Peninsula before passing through
the Bering Strait and into the Beaufort Sea. After the stop- over off Tuktoyaktuk, the crew began the second
leg of their voyage, an eastward transit of the Northwest Passage. And here M/V Peter Faber becomes
relevant to Mr. Harper's Arctic statement of "use it or lose it".
For years, pundits have mused on a future where commercial ships sail through the Northwest Passage to cut sailing
times from the Far East to the east coast of North America and beyond. Now a Danish-registered ship
little bigger than Canada's Kingston MCDVs has done just that.
A commercial transit of the Northwest Passage by a modest foreign-flagged vessel was under- way while Mr. Harper
delivered his speech in Tuktoyaktuk. Just an insignificant coincidence? Perhaps, but there appears
to be a pattern of Canadian governments still talking about plans to secure the Northwest Passage
in the future while some other nations put ships in the water.
[Note that as Mr. Harper delivered his speech in Inuvik, a Prime Ministerial backgrounder was released detailing
plans to increase Canada's Arctic waters regulatory zone from 100 nm to 200 nm and to make reporting to the NORDREG
shipping traffic system mandatory. Most vessels entering Arctic waters already register with
NORDREG so this makes little practical difference.]
MND in the Eastern Arctic – "thrillingly pugnacious language" but Don't Strain
Defence Minister Peter MacKay did a whirlwind tour (a saqiyuq tour?) of the eastern Arctic – Iqaluit,
Nanisivik/Arctic Bay, and on to Canadian Forces Station Alert. It was from CFS Alert, on the northern-most tip
of Ellesmere Island, that Mr. MacKay announced that the "presence of Canadian Forces is
increasingly important to not just claim our sovereignty but exert it."
Once again, there was an unintentional irony apparent between good Canadian intentions
and the actions of our neighbours. Virtually every Canadian Forces flight into the short,
gravel airstrip that serves CFS Alert must route through AB Thule, the US-run airbase midway up Greenland's
west coast. Had Mr. MacKay looked out of his window during that short flight from Greenlandic to
Canadian territory, he might have noticed a lone ship making its way through ice-clogged
That ship, the Danish Navy's ice-hardened HDMS
Knud Rasmussen, was exploring the narrow reaches of Nares Strait. By 26 August, HDMS
Knud Rasmussen had pushed as far north as she could in the increasingly solid polar
ice. By the time the Danes reversed course, they had reached 81° 51' North (CFS Alert is at 82° 59' N).
At the same time, another Danish naval vessel was also pushing north. The ice-resistant Thetis class frigate, HDMS Vædderens reached
81° 21' N on the east coast of Greenland, stopping off of the Danish military outpost, Station Nord.
Around the same time, two Canadian naval vessels were participating in Nanook 2008. These were a
134m frigate, HMCS Toronto, and the 55m Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel HMCS Shawinigan. In contrast
with the Danish vessels, neither of the Canadian warship types is well suited to Arctic conditions. Canadian
frigates and MCDVs now make an annual trip to Baffin Island  but, even at the height of the Arctic summer,
such CF vessels must make their way gingerly when floating ice is encountered. For their yearly Arctic
excursions, Canadian Navy ships must be escorted by a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker – this year
the job fell to a medium icebreaker, the CCGS Pierre Radisson.
... And Speaking of Canadian Coast Guard Icebreakers – Introducing the
In light of the role of Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers in exercises like Nanook 2008
mention the more routine yet sovereignty-enhancing activities of CCG ships in the Arctic), the announcement
that a new polar class icebreaker will be built for the Coast Guard is heartening.
When the Conservative Party caucus met in Inuvik, concerns were voiced about a "militarization" of
the Canadian Arctic. But, the big announcement wasn't new military equipment for the Arctic –
although the virtues of the previous military procurement pledges were certainly extolled. Instead, a new civilian
heavy icebreaker – the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker – will be built. Big announcement but,
actually, nothing new.
In his 18 February 2008 Federal Budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty first earmarked $720M for
a new heavy icebreaker to replace CCGS Louis St. Laurent in 2017. If all goes according to plan, the new
ship – already dubbed the "Diefenbreaker" by the PM himself – will be finished within a decade. A
reasonable timeline considering the size of the project and all is well, right?
In reality, we're still faced with the same old problem. The 40-year old Louis St. Laurent should have been
replaced now not on its 50th birthday. So why wasn't it? In a phrase, Party politics. One government makes a
promise and allocates a budget, the next delays or cancels that same procurement project.  So long as our
leaders put their political aspirations ahead of national interests, "there's no hope of a cure". Until
that changes, promises are the enemies of action.
 Like Northern residents, the Prime Minister had few choices for travel. There are no roads to
Tuktoyaktuk (except in winter months, when ice roads link Tuk to Inuvik and Aklavik) so the options
are flying into Tuktoyaktuk's airport (YUB, 5000' gravel runway) or barging
 Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula is a sand- and glacial till-covered spit poking out into the Beaufort Sea. This
peninsula borders the Mackenzie Delta along its eastern edge. The annual silt load (peaking in May
and June, before the shore is free of sea ice) are the main reason for the area's shallow ocean waters. Storm waves
in the Beaufort also resuspend Mackenzie outflow silt and redeposit it along the shores of the Tuktoyaktuk
Peninsula (while eroding the peninsula itself).
 Parent company, Alcatel-Lucent, has been contracted to lay the cables for this "Greenland Connect" project.
The first of three other foreign-flagged ships involved in the project arrived in Newfoundland in late July.
The trunk cables will be in two sections – a 2,500 km span from Milton, NF to Nuuk, GL;
then 2,100 km to Qaqortoq, GL and over to Landeyarsandur, Iceland.
 Occasional, small supply flights by Canadian Forces utility aircraft – CC-138 Twin Otters and the CC-115 Buffalo – do route through CFS
Eureka on the west coast of Ellemere Island.
 For a contrast with the HDMS Knud Rasmussen's achievement of 81° 51' North
in Nares Strait, Iqaluit is 63°45' N – slightly further north than Yellowknife but south of
 The 93m Pierre Radisson was last reported at 63°42' N in Hudson Strait, south
 It is symptomatic of our current procurement muddle that, within one week, we hear that a new polar class
icebreaker has been promised for the Canadian Coast Guard while, earlier, we learned of the halt to
another CCG purchase – the eight-ship Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel project.
CASR | Arctic Futures | Background | Modest Proposal
| In Detail | Editorials