Canada’s Arctic shipping vanguard

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  Liner Shipping  

By Leo Ryan, AJOTFor decades, a select group of Canadian shipping firms have been actively involved in delivering vital supplies to remote communities in the Far North and transporting mineral products to foreign markets from arguably the world’s harshest region. Their vessels carrying breakbulk, bulk and consumer products are the ones regularly seen on the northern coast of North America - traversing large parts of the fabled Northwest Passage (NWP) located almost entirely off Canada’s coastline and connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Without exception, these operations are carried out in close partnership with various commercial and other entities representing the aboriginal, Inuit population of about 50,000.
Until relatively recently, these enterprises have received little public or international attention. But all that has changed since huge unexplored resources in the Arctic have emerged as Canada’s New Frontier for economic growth and trade in the 21st century, and since the Ottawa authorities have escalated their sovereignty claims. As part of its sovereignty strategy, the federal government introduced last July a new mandatory reporting requirement of foreign and domestic ships passing through Canadian Arctic waters under the so-called NORDREG zone regulations.
In commercial shipping activity, leading the assault has been Fednav Ltd., which has been the sole carrier serving the Arctic year-round with polar-class bulker ships for more than a half-century.
Based in Montreal, Fednav has been owned by the Pathy family of Hungarian-origin since its creation. From a fledgling enterprise launched in Toronto in 1944, the Fednav Group has become a force to reckon with in world bulk shipping, operating today some 70 owned or chartered vessels.
Two ships in the Fednav fleet stand out because they are able to navigate in the winter months in a region posing unique challenges to transportation. These are the 28,000-DWT Arctic, the world’s first ice-breaking bulk carrier, and the newer Umiak 1, the most powerful vessel of its kind, built by a Japanese shipyard and delivered to Fednav in 2006. Both are Canadian-flag.
Fednav’s Extensive Experience
“We are the only Canadian company that operates in the Arctic Shipping Pollution Prevention Control Zone in the winter,” notes Tom Paterson, Fednav’s Vice-President, Owned Fleet & Business Development.
Since mining production began in the late 1970s in the Canadian Arctic, Fednav has carried most of the ore concentrates exported from the region.
This has included the pilot shipment to Rotterdam in the summer of 2008 of iron ore from the Mary River project on Baffinland, reported to contain the world’s biggest high-grade, undeveloped iron ore deposits.
The Arctic transports some 150,000 tonnes a year of nickel concentrates from the Raglan Mine located about 100 kim south of Deception Bay in Nunavik. The mine, owned and operated by Xstrata Nickel, is located in sub-arctic permafrost.
The 31,500-DWT Umiak 1 was custom-designed to move 360,000 tons of nickel a year in 12 voyages from Inco Ltd.’s Voisey Bay mine in northern Labrador to smelters in Manitoba and Ontario. The cargo is unloaded at the Port of Quebec from where it is shipped by rail to final destination.
The Umiak’s 30,000 hp main engine allows the vessel to break first year winter ice of 1.5 metre thickness at a continuous forward speed of three knots. The Arctic’s engine possesses roughly half the horsepower of the Umiak.
“It’s all to do with power in the wintertime,” says Paterson. “Northeast winds, for example, are lethal for the Labrador Sea. One has to design a ship to knife through the shear zone between the mobile pack ice and the landfast ice.”
“The shear zone requires the ship to back off and ram,” he continued. “And in this connection, the stern thrust of the Umiak is equivalent to 90% of its head (forward) thrust. With the Arctic, it’s only 50%.”
Paterson indicated that Fednav annually ships some two million tonnes of concent

Leo Ryan's avatar

American Journal of Transportation