Audit at a Glance—Chapter 3—Marine Navigation in the Canadian Arctic
Audit at a Glance
Chapter 3—Marine Navigation in the Canadian Arctic
What we examined (see Focus of the audit)
The objective of this audit was to determine whether Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (including the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Hydrographic Service), and Environment Canada adequately support safe marine navigation in Canadian Arctic waters. Safe marine navigation is critical for preventing spills. Our audit work included examining whether these federal departments have a shared vision and coordinated strategies to support safe marine transportation in the Arctic. We also audited the services that departments provide to support safe navigation and prevent spills.
What we found
Hydrographic Surveys and Nautical Charts
Overall, we found that many higher-risk areas in the Canadian Arctic are inadequately surveyed and charted, and that capacity for this work is limited. Only a small percentage of the region has modern hydrography coverage. This means that many charts available to mariners may not be current or reliable.
Canadian Arctic waters are inadequately surveyed and charted (see paragraphs 3.17-3.19)
Capacity to survey and chart Canadian Arctic waters is limited (see paragraphs 3.20-3.23)
Recommendation. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Canadian Hydrographic Service) should identify the areas of the Arctic region that need to be surveyed and charted, and prioritize them on the basis of needs across the country. The CHS should develop a long-term implementation plan with cost estimates, timelines, and options that could include collaboration with partners, alternative service delivery, and the use of modern technologies.
Aids to Navigation
Overall, we found that the Canadian Coast Guard has not reviewed systems of aids to navigation in the Arctic according to its program directives, and it has made little progress in reviewing requests by the shipping industry for new or modified aids to navigation. As a result, the Canadian Coast Guard cannot provide assurance to mariners that aids to navigation meet their needs for safe and efficient navigation in the higher risk areas of the Arctic.
The Canadian Coast Guard has not completed required reviews of aids to navigation in the Arctic (see paragraphs 3.27-3.31)
Recommendation. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Canadian Coast Guard) should conduct the required reviews of aids to navigation systems to identify where new or modified aids to navigation may be needed. It should then develop an implementation plan with cost estimates, timelines, and options that could include collaboration with partners, alternative service delivery, and use of prospective new technologies.
Marine weather and ice information
Overall, we found that Environment Canada has been actively improving weather and ice information in the Arctic. Obligations to meet international commitments, the service standard for gale warnings, and increasing marine activity in the Arctic will, however, require further work. Environment Canada also needs to monitor and assess any impacts that may arise from new challenges for acquiring satellite data and from the changing relationship with the Canadian Coast Guard. Safe marine navigation in the Arctic depends on accurate and timely weather and ice information to help to minimize the risk of accidents in this challenging operating environment.
Weather and ice information has been improving in the Canadian Arctic (see paragraphs 3.34-3.35)
New challenges in ice information services have emerged (see paragraphs 3.36-3.38)
Recommendation. Environment Canada (Meteorological Service of Canada) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (the Canadian Coast Guard) should monitor and assess any impacts to the accuracy and timeliness of ice information that could arise from
- changes in the cost and/or availability of radar satellite imagery for purposes of ice information; and
- changes in the respective roles and responsibilities of the two departments for ice services in the Arctic.
Overall, we found that the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaking presence in the Arctic is decreasing while vessel traffic is increasing. The Canadian Coast Guard does not know whether the services it provides are meeting the needs of users, and it has not assessed the risks that decreasing icebreaker presence may pose for safe navigation in the Arctic.
Mechanisms are not in place to assess whether icebreaking services meet user needs (see paragraphs 3.43-3.44)
Icebreaker presence in the Arctic is decreasing (see paragraphs 3.45-3.50)
Recommendation. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Canadian Coast Guard) should improve its performance measurement system in order to assess whether its icebreaking services meet user needs in the Arctic. The Coast Guard should also assess the risk associated with the projected increases in vessel traffic, changing environmental conditions, and the capacity of its icebreaker fleet in the Arctic to provide necessary programs and services.
Monitoring of marine traffic and spills
Overall, we found that Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard have surveillance and monitoring mechanisms in place to support their enforcement of safety and pollution prevention laws for marine traffic in the Arctic. However, the departments could make useful improvements by
- developing tools for detecting hazardous and noxious substances,
- managing risks that could arise from new challenges in acquiring satellite data,
- improving information about risks from vessels not required to report, and
- better managing vessel traffic data.
Making these incremental improvements would help ensure that the departments’ capacity for surveillance and monitoring keeps pace with future increases of marine traffic in the Arctic.
Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard have mechanisms for surveillance and monitoring of most marine traffic in the Arctic (see paragraphs 3.54-3.55)
Some aspects of surveillance and monitoring warrant further attention (see paragraphs 3.56-3.60)
Vision and strategies
Overall, we found that there is no long-term national vision or coordinated departmental strategies to support safe marine transportation in the Arctic. The government has recognized that a strategic and coordinated approach is important to aligning federal efforts and supporting responsible development of the North. A vision for the Arctic would provide the coherent direction needed to address emerging risks as maritime traffic increases in the region.
Canada’s Northern Strategy does not provide a vision for marine transportation (see paragraphs 3.64-3.66)
No department has a coordinated strategy for safe marine transportation in the Arctic (see paragraphs 3.67-3.73)
Recommendation. Transport Canada, in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, other federal departments and agencies, as well as partners and other stakeholders as appropriate, should lead the development of a long-term vision and strategy for safe Arctic marine transportation. This could be aligned with Canada’s Northern Strategy and could build on the work already underway by departments such as the Northern Marine Transportation Corridors Initiative and the Northern Transportation Action Plan.
The audited entities agree with our recommendations, and have responded (see List of Recommendations).
Why we did this audit
Marine transportation plays a critical role in the sustainability of the region, as it is the primary means of moving goods to, from, and through Canada’s Arctic. According to Canadian Coast Guard statistics, there were about 350 marine voyages in 2013. Although this volume of vessel traffic is low compared with Canada’s southern waters, Arctic voyages have been increasing over the last 20 years.
This trend is expected to continue in coming years, driven largely by growing northern communities, expanding resource development projects, and increasing tourism. Increased shipping opportunities in Arctic waters come with increased risks to safety and the environment. The Canadian Arctic waters are vast, remote, and can be hazardous to navigate, with much of these waters covered in ice for many months of the year. The 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) by the Arctic Council cautions that although sea ice is receding, marine operations will remain challenging.
Reports from the federal government and international bodies recognize that Arctic marine shipping, if not properly managed, poses a threat to natural ecosystems. Transportation Safety Board of Canada records indicate marine accidents and incidents have occurred in Canada’s Arctic that included groundings, capsizings or sinkings, collisions, and damage by ice. If marine traffic continues to increase as expected, marine incidents could become more frequent.
Details of the audit
|Report of the||Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development|
|Type of product||Performance audit|
|Completion date||18 July 2014|
|Tabling date||7 October 2014|
|Related audits||Chapter 4—Managing the Coast Guard Fleet and Marine Navigational Services—Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2007 Spring Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada|
For more information
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Tel.: 613 952 0213, extension 6292
The Commissioner’s Comments
Federal government is lacking a coordinated approach to support marine navigation in the Arctic