Canadian Coast Guard wraps up an Arctic season scaled back because of COVID-19

Marine traffic was also down in the Canadian Arctic, thanks to restrictions on cruise ships and pleasure craft.

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The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen is seen near Iqaluit as water vapor rises off the freezing ocean on Nov. 30. It was the ship’s final day in Frobisher Bay for the year before returning to more southerly waters. (Frank Reardon / Nunatsiaq News)

With the freeze-up progressing throughout the Arctic, all Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers have now left northern waters.

The coast guard completed its 2020 Arctic operational season on Dec. 1, with eight icebreakers visiting the Arctic this year.

The CCGS Henry Larsen was last to leave Nov. 30 from Frobisher Bay.

The 2020 season was “unlike any other,” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the coast guard still managed to maintain normal levels of service, according to a release from the organization.

All non-essential public engagement activities in the Arctic were cancelled, such as community visits and tours of coast guard ships.

Special measures, including COVID-19 testing for crews before boarding icebreakers heading to the Arctic, kept crews safe.

“There have been no cases of COVID-19 to date on any coast guard vessel across the country,” the release stated.

The coast guard’s training and exercise program held seven exercises with the Canadian Red Cross, Government of Nunavut and hunters and trappers organizations, though five of them were carried out remotely.

Overall, the season was quieter because Transport Canada banned cruise ships and most pleasure craft from Arctic waters.

Eight vessels made full transits of the Northwest Passage so far this year, compared to 27 as of Nov. 27, last year, according to the coast guard.

As for distress calls, the coast guard was involved in 77 cases in the Arctic in 2020, including 32 which were responded to by the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.