Many measures will be introduced to reduce risks associated with Covid-19 as sealift deliveries are made over the coming months.

The NSSI cargo ship Taiga Desgagnes will be one of three vessels that the company will dispatch to Nunavut this sealift season. Many steps are being taken to minimize the chances of spreading Covid-19 as resupply takes place in the territory.
photo courtesy of NSSI

Representatives with sealift companies NSSI and NEAS said customers won’t pay higher prices because of the coronavirus precautions. They also acknowledged that there’s potential for a small reduction in the overall volume shipped this year because some construction projects have been delayed or cancelled due to Covid-19.

Both companies sail out of Quebec, where, as of June 23 there were more than 54,884 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 5,424 deaths from the virus.

NSSI’s crews will self-isolate for 14 days prior to departing; they will have their temperature taken daily; they will be enforcing social distancing; and regular cleaning and disinfecting will take place aboard the vessels, said David Rivest, general manager of NSSI.

“First and foremost, whenever we look at the operation we look at how do we protect the communities, how do we protect our personnel?” said Rivest, who noted that the Government of Nunavut, Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard have all reviewed NSSI’s plans.

However, spokespersons for NNSI and NEAS deferred to the GN when asked what will happen if any crew members are diagnosed with Covid while on a voyage, other than to state that the crew members would be isolated.

Generally, Transport Canada has jurisdiction over vessels while they’re at sea and the GN’s rules are imposed at the point of land contact, said Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.

Patterson has the authority to weigh the severity of any outbreak of Covid-19 aboard a vessel and the best course of action in regards to contact with communities. Cargo ships’ access to Nunavut communities can be limited, as necessary, or clearance can be given for a crew member to be airlifted from a community for medical treatment.

“If an individual with Covid-19 required a medevac, then precautions would be taken to minimize the risk of viral transmission during the individual’s transportation,” Patterson stated.

Stay away from docking areas

When the cargo ships arrive at communities, residents will be asked to stay away from the docking area, not just to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus but because there’s always a risk when heavy equipment is offloading cargo on the beach, Rivest explained.

The vessels will have all the daily essentials the crews need on board so “there will be no need for (staff) to go to town,” Rivest said, adding that an exception would be to deliver cargo to a specified location in the community, but the heavy equipment operators would remain inside the vehicles.

One individual will be designated to communicate and transfer of cargo with local residents but it will take place in an office with Plexiglass separating the parties, said Rivest.

“It’s very meticulous,” he said.

Suzanne Paquin, president and CEO with NEAS, said there has been plenty of ongoing communication with federal, territorial and municipal authorities since late March to sort out Covid-19 measures.

“We’re working very hard with everyone to make sure everything goes as smooth as possible with these new procedures that we have,” she said. “We want to keep everyone safe.”

NEAS, which has five vessels serving Nunavut, won’t permit staff to take shore leave in Nunavut communities. The company is also promoting a “touch-free cargo pick-up service” involving a “buffer container” that will cut back on the amount of contact when customers receive their cargo.

Because of the extra precautions, offloading cargo may take a little more time this year, Paquin admitted.

“Going to the grocery store takes longer, everything takes longer,” she said. “It’s a whole new world out there.”

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Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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