A Canadian icebreaker that was helping to establish Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic is limping back to Halifax after divers were unable to push a dislodged propeller back into its proper position.
The Louis St. Laurent, the 42-year-old red and white ship that is the Canadian Coast Guard's largest and most capable icebreaker, has been stranded several kilometres offshore from the Nunavut hamlet of Cambridge Bay for the past two weeks.
It had been working alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in frozen ice of the high Arctic, using seismic equipment to map the extent of the continental shelf and establish which countries have jurisdiction over the sea floor.
That mission was cut short by about five days as a result of the malfunction.
Brian LeBlanc, the regional director of fleet for the Coast Guard's central and Arctic divisions, does not blame breakdown on the advanced age of the vessel. "This can happen to any ship," he said, "especially a heavy icebreaker that has to go through some significant ice."
The federal Conservative government is replacing the CCGS Louis St. Laurent, which is named after the former Liberal prime minister, with a new ship that will cost $720-million. It is to be called the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, after the former Conservative prime minister, and is expected to be delivered in 2017.
On Sept. 19, a strong vibration was felt at the stern of the Louis, as she is known to the Coast Guard. A bolt had come loose and the central propeller – one of three – had slipped about 15 centimetres down its shaft.
The seismic operation was halted and the ship was piloted to Cambridge Bay, where the Coast Guard hoped she could be repaired.
Divers pushed the propeller back up the shaft, but it is still four millimetres from where it needs to be. "I know it sounds small," Mr. LeBlanc said, "but when you are talking about mechanical equipment that big, it's important that it goes back into the exact position."
The scientists among the roughly 100 people on board when the propeller slipped disembarked in Cambridge Bay and flew home. A new crew of 53 will take the ship back south, a trip that will take about two weeks.
Hans Bögglid, a writer, director and actor from Halifax who wrote blogs about the expedition, spoke with chief scientist David Mosher after it was cut short.
"While the expedition met the objectives of the voyage well ahead of schedule, Dr. Mosher had wanted to exceed them," Mr. Bögglid writes on his blog. "Gathering seismic information in the remote and isolated high Arctic is not an easy task, and Dr. Mosher had hoped to acquire more."