Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada, U.S. May Be Missing Boat on Arctic Shipping

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada, U.S. May Be Missing Boat on Arctic Shipping

Article excerpt

Canada may be missing boat on Arctic shipping

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Canada may be missing the boat on using Arctic shipping to encourage development at the same time Russia steams ahead on its own northern waters.

"At this stage, we're not really in the game," said John Higginbotham, a Carleton University professor and former assistant deputy minister for Transport Canada.

"The marathon started some time ago, but we haven't sent in our application yet."

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes his annual visit to the North to observe military exercises, Arctic experts suggest he would be wise to also take a look at what's happening in Russia. Shipping on that country's Northern Sea Route across the top of the continent is booming and hauling resource projects in the Russian North along with it.

"I had an email from someone from a Greek shipping company a few days ago who commented that Russia is actually 50 years ahead of any Arctic country in terms of seizing on the opportunity," said Michael Byers, author of a forthcoming book on international law and the Arctic.

The contrasts are stark.

A total of 421 commercial vessels have applied for permission this season to use Russia's Northern Sea Route, which cuts days off the shipping time between Asia and northern Europe. They will be aided by nearly two dozen icebreakers and protected by a string of 10 up-to-date search-and-rescue centres along the route.

Ports are being upgraded. Sea lanes are well-understood and comprehensively mapped. Co-operation with maritime neighbours such as Norway is strong.

Canada has no Arctic commercial ports. Mapping is so poor that cruise ships have run aground and captains use old Soviet-era charts to supplement Canadian ones. The Coast Guard's six icebreakers are not available to accompany routine commercial voyages.

Arctic search and rescue remains based in southern Ontario and depends on planes that were scheduled to have been replaced long ago. And disputes with the United States about border issues and the status of the Northwest Passage add legal uncertainty for shippers.

Only 61 tankers and cargo ships entered the Canadian Arctic last season, most of them related to community resupply. …

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