Canada’s Research Icebreaker, CCGS Amundsen

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The CCGS Amundsen Icebreaker, began its three-month annual research expedition to Canada’s Arctic on 20 July 2020. The Amundsen is owned by the Canadian government and operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. The Amundsen is a powerful, flexible, and cost-effective ship for conducting international calibre scientific research in the Arctic. The Amundsen’s work is two fold, in the summer it is charted for 3 months for scientific research. During the winter, the vessel is engaged for icebreaking activities by the Coast Guard. The size of her crew depends on the type of mission and area she has been assigned to. Amundsen’s home base is Quebec City.

Amundsen has a unloaded displacement of 6,400 tonnes and fully loaded is 8,180 tonnes. The ship overall is 98.3 metres (322 ft 6 in) long, with a 19.5 metre (64 ft 0 in) beam and a 7.2 metre (23 ft 7 in) draught. The vessel is capable of carrying 2,471 m3 of diesel fuel (544,000 imp gal) and has a range of 35,000 nautical miles (65,000 km) at 14 knots (26 km / h) and can stay at sea for up to 100 days.

The ship was launched on 10 March 1978 and joined the Coast Guard service in March 1979. It was initially named Franklin in memory of Sir John Franklin, an Arctic explorer. Amendsen cruised the western Arctic and Northwest Passage once she was sea bound. When transiting the Northwest Passage, heading to Newfoundland ‘s designated base for the icebreaker, Amendsen lost a propeller in Viscount Melville Sound and was rescued by the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, and both ships returned to Canada’s west coast for repairs to the Amendsen. They both then sailed through the Panama Canal to the eastern coast of Canada.

The ship operated out of Quebec City’s CCG Base Dartmouth during the 1980s and 1990s. She conducted icebreaking operations at and off Newfoundland in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence River. The Amendsen (Franklin) was also assigned during the summer season to support the annual Arctic Summer Sealift operation to escort cargo ships into remote port communities in the Canadian Arctic.

CCGS Amundsen
Image credit: Kang Wang

In June 1994, at the height of the Turbot War, Amendsen was among the coast guard vessels to track the Grand Banks of European fishing fleets. The ship was kept out of sight of the foreign fishing trawlers, but within radar range. Such actions led to the Spanish fishing trawler Estai being detained and captured.

Subsequently, in 2000, the Amendsen was decommissioned from the Canadian Coast Guard and placed in non-operational reserve. In 2001, the Canadian Coast Guard announced it would not be able to provide an icebreaker in the Arctic that year for research purposes. This led to many academic organizations pursuing a potential replacement. A coalition of Canadian universities and federal departments presented a plan in 2002 to turn the Amendsen into a research vessel in the Arctic Ocean.

Following 10 months of repairs in Les Mechins, Quebec and a cost of over $30 million, the Amundsen sailed for King William Sound and spent 398 days in the Arctic, divided between two missions, one expedition to the Beaufort Sea and the other in support of Inuit communities in Nunavik.

The Amundsen left Quebec City for their annual trip to the Arctic, late this year. Traveling through the Canadian Arctic, visiting the Beaufort Sea, Labrador Sea, and Baffin Bay is this year’s planned 114-day journey. No scientists on this exhibition will communicate with any of the northern cultures’ this season because of COVID19. The expedition now will concentrate on sub-Arctic work in the Labrador Sea. The reduced crew missions are: four major research programmes, an annual review of the Labrador Sea ocean climate dynamics and bio geochemistry, seafloor sediment surveys at key geological sites on the Northeast Newfoundland Shelf, a network of deep-water reef ecosystems, and a southeastern Arctic seabed mapping network.

The Amunsden can be deployed at all times to assist in search and rescue, pollution control, fishing surveillance and national security operations, or any other role to support Canadians, thanks to its qualified crew and highly advanced equipment.

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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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