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Northwest Territories

Suspected vandalism of fuel hose played role in delaying NWT barges

The Northwest Territories government says damage to a fuel hose played a role in delaying this year’s shipping season for supply vessels plying coastal communities.

The NWT government announced earlier this month that the barge for Sachs Harbour, the territory’s northernmost municipality, would be cancelled. Bad weather and a delayed start of the sailing season due to climate change, delayed buoy placement by the Canadian Coast Guard and flooding in Hay River and Inuvik this spring are to blame.

In an email to The Canadian Press, Laura Busch, a spokeswoman for the Department of Infrastructure, added that vandalism on a fuel hose also delayed the shipping schedule by six to seven days.

“Despite the myriad of challenges, some of the most challenging and unrelenting have been the extreme weather events associated with climate change,” Busch wrote, highlighting flood conditions, low water levels and changing wind and wave conditions.

The RCMP confirmed they were investigating alleged vandalism on a fuel delivery hose from the barge to a warehouse in Tulita, which was reported on August 6. He said fuel deliveries have been suspended until a replacement hose arrives.

RCMP said its investigation did not identify any suspects. Suggestions for improving safety have been forwarded to Marine Transportation Services, who provide barging services in the area.

Many coastal communities in the north rely on annual barges to move cargo, food, and fuel because they are not connected to the south by road or rail and transporting items by air is costly. The owner of the only store in Sachs Harbor said some supplies were running low and that several residents were also waiting for snowmobiles in a community where many hunt for food.

The NWT Government said groceries were flown into the port of Sachs from the barge, now based in Paulatuk, on Sunday. It said it plans to fly the necessary fuel and most of the deck cargo aboard the barge to Sachs Harbor in November and December. Some larger items and those that do not need to be shipped immediately are being stored in Paulatuk until next year’s shipping season.

The territorial government said none of the additional costs of transporting items by air will be passed on to residents of the municipality.

“We know this is frustrating for community residents and we appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through the details required to prepare for an airlift,” Busch wrote.

The territorial government took over Marine Transportation Services in 2016 after the previous owner filed for bankruptcy. It offers inland waterway services from the port of Hay River on Great Slave Lake to locations along the Mackenzie River and in the western Arctic. It has completed ship supply for nine NWT communities and one Nunavut community this year along with private contracts.

The Ministry of Infrastructure has been “holding talks” with ship operators and indigenous and local governments to determine whether operations of marine transportation services could benefit from increased private sector involvement. The department said there was “some interest” after making an expression of interest request in April.

The Territorial Government had previously canceled barges for Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut and Paulatuk in early October 2018 citing impassable ice conditions. It was later found that a poor delivery of fuel, which had to be shipped back from Alberta, also played a role in delaying the barges. Some items were flown to the communities while others, like vehicles and building materials, were stored at Inuvik over the winter.

GNWT this August settled three out-of-court lawsuits filed by two Cambridge Bay companies and one in Paulatuk in federal court seeking damages in connection with barge cancellations alleging their cargo had been damaged. The government filed defense statements and counterclaims in all three cases.

– By Emily Blake in Yellowknife. This story was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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