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|PHOTO BY Ansgar Walk, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.|
The Port of Churchill is located on Hudson Bay, an arm of the Arctic Ocean in Canada. It was originally built and operated by the Canadian national government and was later sold to the American company OmniTRAX for private operation. Apparently the traffic just wasn't there to support profitable private operations. The port had four berths capable of handling Panamax sized vessels and had loading and unloading facilities for grain and other bulk commodities, general cargo, and tanker vessels, and rail connections to the rest of Canada to the south. We have noted for some years now that all of the speculation over the Arctic opening as a general shipping route based on continued climate warming and ice reduction is a bit premature. There is an increase in cargo movements in the Arctic but in our analysis of this the cargo movements appear to be dominated by in area destination cargoes supporting Arctic communities, and oil and mineral exploration. The movements appear highly seasonal and the navigation season doesn't appear to be expanding in terms of commercial usage, especially for through cargoes.
Churchill has no road access to the rest of Canada but does have rail tracks south that can link cargo to road systems. To us it appears that the idea behind Churchill may have been to snag less than ship loads of cargo where the cargo was meant for both Canadian and European destinations. Ships out of the Orient with cargo for both destinations seeking to use the much touted but at this point rarely used, supposedly cost saving trans Arctic route to Europe could avoid a diversion to West Coast Canadian ports. Export cargoes from mid continent Canada would seasonally have access to an ocean port closer than East or West Coast ports. But only experimental passages of through traffic are occurring. The Port of Churchill was the only deep water link between Canada's Arctic waters and its railroad network. On July 27, 2016 news reports carried the word that OmniTrax had shut the port down, laid off the workers with little warning and virtually no explanation. The Port of Churchill now joins the Canadian Navy's Arctic refueling station as another failed Canadian venture in the High Arctic ,that was to say the least, a bit premature.
We believe that Canada must take action as must the United States to secure soverignity in our High Arctic exclusive economic zones due to Russia's outrageous claims to the North Pole and virtually the entire Arctic Ocean which they have taken to calling the "Russian Sea". However the activities of the Russians and Chinese in the area have nothing to do with any blind faith on the parts of either the Dragon or the Bear in continued global warming. There is ample evidence that actual global warming on average ceased a few years ago. Winter ice cover in the high Arctic has actually increased over the last two winters, though the "old ice" is no longer a contribution to total thickness and the spring leads open a bit sooner as a result. Unfortunately U.S. Federal Government sources can't seem to even admit the possibility that old ice may build up again if the warming trend doesn't continue, or that what we have been observing over the last 18 years may be a weather cycle vice global climate change. The Canadian government in recent years past may have jumped into seriously needed projects like the Naval Refueling Station and the Port of Churchill with an exaggerated hope that weather related navigational conditions and commercial viability would happen sooner rather than later. This has resulted in premature transfer of a vital asset to private commercial hands in the case of the Port of Churchill, and horrific cost overruns and missed construction deadlines that shut down the Naval Refueling Station project.
The Canadian Government seems to have learned the lesson and in recent months has been more cautionary in their assessments of the evolution of trans Arctic shipping, and more cautionary in their cost estimates of expanding Canadian naval and coast guard presence in the region. We lament the closure of the Port of Churchill, it does not bode well for Canada. We think Canada should take action to reopen the port either in the form of some type of subsidy, or by nationalizing it. It is expensive for the Canadian tax payer, but clearly the traffic is not available to support running the facility at a profit for the foreseeable future. Yet, Canada can't afford to diminish her presence in the High Arctic. That rail line to Churchill can also move "destination cargoes" like oil exploration equipment to Churchill where it can be picked up by offshore supply and construction vessels for deployment. There would be no need for waiting for the shipping lanes to open, the season's equipment could arrive overland and be positioned for pick up as soon as the first service vessels arrive. Perhaps some investment in winter over berths for a few ice breaking capable offshore service vessels could be built in Churchill. With the season's equipment already prepositioned and a few vessels already in the neighborhood, the oil exploration/ production seasons could get off to an earlier start and longer duration even if ice conditions return to those of about 18 years ago. Moreover that rail line can move military equipment to the edge of the Arctic at high speed and volume if the need ever arrives. With no peacetime port how long would the rail lines be maintained. Now is not the time to give up any High Arctic settlement.
Canada, DON'T GIVE UP CHURCHILL!
To read more we suggest the commentary of Bartley Kives of CBC Manitoba
We urge Canadians to revisit this post periodically for links to past and future related posts.