Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you very much for having us to the committee this afternoon. It's an honour to be here, and we hope we can provide information that is of use to you.
We've provided a deck, which I saw was being distributed. I hope you have it in front of you. I propose to go through the deck fairly quickly. I'm not going to pause on the text of the slides; that's really there for your background information. I will try to give you a quick overview of the Canadian Coast Guard as we go through the graphics and the information in front of you.
Turn to slide 2, if you would, please. The Coast Guard's mandate is to ensure the safety of mariners and to protect the marine environment. The Coast Guard is proud of what it does each and every day. Our professionals are critical to the safe movement of over 5,600 large cargo vessels and over seven million fishing and recreational vessels every year. Canadian waters produce some of the world's most challenging weather and sailing conditions. Our ships service all three of Canada's oceans, totalling more than 275,000 kilometres of coastline, which, as you likely know, is the longest in the world. That's in addition to the critical services we provide in the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. We're responsible for a marine area that's roughly the size of the European Union.
The Coast Guard employs approximately 4,700 personnel. Some 2,400 of them are ships' crews and officers, with another 1,100 or so in operational positions such as marine communication and traffic services, maritime security officers, and environmental response officers. The remaining 1,200 or so employees are spread across the country and support these operational personnel in their duties.
We are currently organized in three regions: the western region, headquartered in Victoria, British Columbia; central and Arctic, headquartered in Montreal, Quebec; and Atlantic, which is headquartered in St. John's, Newfoundland. We maintain a series of smaller bases, search and rescue stations, and other facilities to support our operations.
Turning to slide 3, we support the safety of mariners, our environment, and the economy through our brave men and women who take to the water each and every day. As weather takes a turn for the worst and the mariners head to the safety of shore, the Coast Guard is heading out to sea to help others in distress.
The Coast Guard is well known for its expertise in safety services, but many Canadians are not as familiar with our role in supporting the economy by ensuring that container ships and other large vessels move safely in Canadian waters.
Next is slide 4.
Our motto is “Safety First, Service Always”.
Safety begins with the work done to operate and maintain more than 17,000 marine aids, to disseminate information on safety and navigation, to provide data on the weather and water levels for mariners, as well as to implement e-Navigation to enable mariners to electronically obtain the information they need to navigate in safety.
The presence of ice on waterways is a danger for mariners. Thanks to the 15 icebreakers, with an average age of about 30 years, and the 2 air cushion vessels of our fleet, ships can navigate safely on the coast and in the Great Lakes 12 months a year.
Our work in the Arctic carried out from June to November contributes to the resupply of certain Arctic communities, supports fishing thanks to emergency response services, provides ice escorts, and supports scientific research. In addition, we are often the only visible presence of the Canadian government in many communities.
Another significant contribution to safety comes from our marine communications and traffic services centres.
Another important contribution to safety comes from Coast Guard marine communications and traffic service, MCTS, centres. These centres provide marine distress and safety monitoring and marine safety information broadcast services, such as weather warnings and hazards to navigation. They also screen vessels entering Canadian waters and manage vessel traffic movements within Canadian waters. The Coast Guard has modernized the communications technology used in these centres right across the country.
It is our understanding that this committee intends on studying the consolidation of Comox and we welcome working together to show you what our dedicated officers do to keep our waterways safe through this important work.
To date, we have successfully modernized nine centres and the new systems are working well. The modernized centres will have allowed us to move from 22 to 12 centres with no reduction in service to mariners, because the number of communication towers that actually receive the calls from the water remains the same.
While the thousands of vessels transiting over Canada's waters every day are critical to the economic livelihoods of Canadians, each represents a risk to the environment or a potential search and rescue case.
First, I'll say a word on our environmental response program. On an average day, the Coast Guard addresses three reported pollution events. We know that all marine vessels carry some quantity of fuel, hazardous and noxious substances and/or oil. The Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring an appropriate response to all marine pollution spills in Canadian waters. When the polluter has been identified and is willing and able to respond, the Coast Guard advises the polluter of its responsibilities. In instances when the polluter is unknown, unable or unwilling to act, the Coast Guard assumes command and takes control of the response.
On the subject of search and rescue, the Coast Guard is the federal lead for marine search and rescue services which include monitoring, coordination, and on-water response actions. The Coast Guard ensures that safe, professionally crewed and operationally capable vessels, vehicles and helicopters are available and ready to respond to marine search and rescue incidents.
Given Canada's expansive coastline and marine area, the Coast Guard augments its search and rescue capacity through a network of assets and resources, working together to provide assistance to respond to marine search and rescue incidents. These include volunteer members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and other mariners, usually called vessels of opportunity, who are legally required to respond when another vessel is in distress. An example of this, you will recall, occurred on October 25, 2015. There was a whale-watching boat that sank off the west coast of British Columbia, the Leviathan II, and it was the Ahousaht First Nation that was first on the scene. Their quick and courageous response certainly reduced the loss of life that day.
The Coast Guard also plays a vital role in national security and marine safety in Canada. Although we do not have a direct mandate related to their application, we contribute to these objectives in three important ways.
When it comes to system monitoring and maritime situational awareness, the Coast Guard is one of the five partners of the marine communications and traffic services centres in Halifax, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Esquimalt. All three of those centres identify, monitor and assess potential maritime threats in Canadian waters and in boundary waters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The Coast Guard is always keeping an eye on Canadian waters.
As for the Coast Guard's assets and staff, we own and operate Canada's civilian fleet. We maintain a maritime presence throughout Canadian waters. Our vessels, helicopters, equipment, staff and expertise are called upon to support Canada's marine security and law enforcement community.
The Canadian Coast Guard has two armed vessels that are used for interdiction activities, specifically with respect to fisheries enforcement on the high seas. We also have patrol vessels that we run in partnership with the RCMP. They patrol primarily in the Great Lakes and on the St. Lawrence.
We also maintain a small policy group in Ottawa that helps to develop our operational policy and provides an interface with our policy partners, primarily Transport Canada.
The Canadian Coast Guard owns and operates 117 vessels, 43 of which are large vessels, along with 22 helicopters. Many of our vessels are well past their expected end of life date and our engineering and maintenance staff have done wonders to keep the vessels operating so well for so long. However, many ships are breaking down more often due to age, and the Coast Guard needs to provide reliable services. This is why the Coast Guard is working to renew its fleet of vessels and helicopters.
Since 2009 the Coast Guard has acquired 20 new vessels, including nine midshore patrol vessels that support fisheries enforcement and maritime security; two air-cushioned vehicles, commonly known as hovercraft; 15 light-lift helicopters—we took delivery of the last one very recently—that support ice monitoring and safe navigation activities to facilitate trade; and numerous small craft and barges that are too many to name but that are, rest assured, important to our work.
The future of our renewal efforts remains bright. We have contracted for seven medium light-lift helicopters and 12 new search and rescue lifeboats. Construction on the first of four offshore science vessels is under way in Vancouver. These will be made-in-Canada ships that will support the Fisheries and Oceans research needed for evidence-based science decisions. We continue to advance the work to acquire a polar icebreaker to enhance services in the Arctic and replace our current flagship, the Louis S. St-Laurent, affectionately know simply as the Louis.
The Coast Guard's next priority is the replacement of its icebreakers. These workhorses of the fleet are still performing, but they're aging. Replacements will be required to ensure that we can meet current and future demands for icebreaking in the Great Lakes, the Seaway, eastern Canada, and the Arctic.
I'll turn now to slide 8.
The Arctic is a unique environment, and the Coast Guard is very involved in the discussion of Canada's northern strategy. The Coast Guard provides its range of services in the Arctic. It is a member of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, which seeks to discuss operational issues with other northern nations.
Our icebreakers and their commanding officers and crews have decades of experience, and are the global authorities on icebreaking and navigating Canada's Arctic. With this expertise, the Coast Guard is leading, along with Transport Canada and the Canadian Hydrographic Service, the implementation of the northern marine transportation corridors initiative, which is looking to focus investment in services along a series of shipping routes with higher traffic to offer safe navigation to those in the north.
These shipping lanes link to every northern community, and provide a route from the Pacific to the Atlantic. In this capacity, we are working to improve safety and establish more reliable and direct supply lines to northern communities, which will contribute to lowering the cost of goods and services in the Arctic.
Although shipping through the Arctic is very expensive at this time due to a number of factors, including stronger vessel hulls required and increased insurance rates, the melting of Arctic ice will likely see costs diminish in the future. The Globe and Mail summarized the 2013 MV Nordic Orion trip through the Northwest Passage from Vancouver to Finland as follows:
||Sending cargo through the Northwest Passage would shave about 4,000 kilometres on a trip from Europe to Asia compared with the Panama Canal, which also can only accommodate ships of a certain size. The Nordic Orion saved about $200,000 and about four days using the passage.
As you can see from the next slide, the Coast Guard provides many important services to Canadians, and is at the forefront of critical safety and security operations. At the same time, the Coast Guard is an economic enabler and the protector of Canadian waterways for future generations.
Coast Guard personnel are proud to serve the country in this unique way. We're always recruiting Canadians who are looking to serve their country with a dash of adventure. To this end, we operate the Canadian Coast Guard College in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Canadian public has a high expectation of the Coast Guard, and we seek to meet this standard in everything we do.
Thank you very much for inviting us here today. I'd like to extend an invitation to the committee: if we can help in any way, including having you visit our fleet or any of our operations, we'd be more than happy to host you in that respect.
We'd love to answer any questions or provide any information that can be of use to you today.