Coast Guard staffing shortages causes 10-day delay on Mackenzie River shipping season

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A barge carrying goods on the Mackenzie River near Norman Wells, N.W.T., in a file photo from 2016.  (NTCL - image credit)
A barge carrying goods on the Mackenzie River near Norman Wells, N.W.T., in a file photo from 2016. (NTCL - image credit)

The N.W.T. government's Marine Transportation Services's first tow left Hay River on July 17 this year.

That's 10 days behind schedule.

Marine Transportation Service (MTS) tugs and barges can't travel the Mackenzie River until the Canadian Coast Guard places navigation buoys that mark shipping lanes.

Last week, the Canadian Coast Guard said it was "working to restore service levels as quickly as possible," according to an email from spokesperson Jeremy Hennessy.

The Coast Guard operates two vessels — the CCGS Dumit and CCGS Eckaloo — to lay out buoys on the Mackenzie.

Hennessy said a shortage of crew affected the CCGS Dumit, "and has now been resolved."

He said the CCGS Eckaloo began navigation work on the river on July 9 and as of July 20, had placed buoys up to Norman Wells.

"We currently do not anticipate any reductions in community resupply services this barge season," MTS spokesperson Laura Busch wrote in an email Friday. "We remain committed to serving all our customers with essential barge services and continue to prioritize delivery to N.W.T. communities."

MTS's sailing schedule was updated July 19 to reflect delays in the Coast Guard's role in the shipping season.

It's not unusual for MTS to update its shipping schedule as the season progresses (find the latest arrival schedule here).

The Hay River terminal is still accepting cargo for the summer shipping season, Busch wrote.

She also said there is a shortage of skilled mariners being experienced across Canada.

"This problem isn't unique to the North nor to [the Canadian Coast Guard]."

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