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4 new barges headed for Tuktoyaktuk from China

The COVID-19 pandemic may be delaying deliveries across Canada, but it’s not stopping four new barges from travelling from China to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., this summer.

Marine Transportation Services (MTS) is expecting the new fleet this August, arriving on a heavy-lift ship from Beijing. 

Steve Hagerman, the director of MTS, the N.W.T. government-owned barge company, said the cross-continental delivery would’ve been noteworthy, even if the country wasn’t already in the midst of a pandemic.

“That’s going to be a one-of-[a-kind] for sure. I don’t believe that this will be repeated again,” said Hagerman.

Barges bring critical fuel and other dry goods to Arctic coastal and Mackenzie River communities every summer in both the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

Hagermen said these four barges are part of a new series that are made specifically to handle large volumes of fuel products. With the increased capacity, it will allow MTS to decrease the number of deliveries into some communities.

The CBC asked a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure how much the barges cost and the name of the Chinese company that is supplying them, but did not receive a response.

Steve Hagerman, the director of Marine Transportation Services, says despite the pandemic, four barges are still going to make their way from China to the North this summer. (Submitted by Steve Hagerman)

Hagerman said, so far, organizing the delivery has been going better than he anticipated — despite the shipyard in China shutting down “for well over a month” since the height of the pandemic in March.

Another concern has been that, like the N.W.T., China has been seeing high water levels, and the country is dealing with severe flooding.

“We were really concerned, of course, that we wouldn’t be able to get the barges at all this year,” he said. “I don’t know how they did it, but they fast-tracked and put us right back on schedule.”

COVID-19 restrictions

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said the new barges are going to be a big deal for his riding and other Arctic coastal communities.

“It just reassures, having new barges in place that are able to carry as much fuel as we need for these communities. Instead of doing two trips a year, they are able to do it all in one,” said Jacobson.

“I’m looking forward to making sure that all my coastal communities are being serviced and I think this is a big step for our government working with the coastal communities.”

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson, pictured in this file photo, says the new barges are going to be a big deal for his riding and other Arctic coastal communities. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

With the ships coming in during COVID-19 restrictions, the government and MTS will have to ensure proper physical distancing and safety procedures are followed to keep everyone safe, Jacobson said. That will include no intermingling between residents and the crew.

“We haven’t seen any big boats since last year, so it will be good to see,” said Jacobson.

Hagerman, with MTS, said the heavy-lift ship is slated to head overseas with the barges on July 28.

It should arrive about 14 days later, depending on the weather.

Hagerman said the new vessels won’t be replacing any current barges, and although these vessels are generally used on the ocean, they can also be used on rivers.

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