Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Fisheries and Oceans
Issue No. 5 - Evidence - June 7, 2016
OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 7, 2016
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 5:33
p.m. to study Maritime Search and Rescue activities, including current
challenges and opportunities.
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good evening. My name is Fabian Manning, a senator from
Newfoundland and Labrador, and I'm pleased to chair this evening's meeting.
The committee is continuing its study on maritime search and rescue
activities, including current challenges and opportunities. This evening we will
be learning about the role of the Department of National Defence and the
Canadian Armed Forces in coordinating and carrying out maritime search and
We are pleased to welcome by video conference Rear-Admiral John Newton,
Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic and Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic. On
behalf of the members of the committee, I thank you for joining us today,
I understand you have opening remarks. In the interests of allowing as much
discussion as possible in the time available to us, I would ask that you take
the floor now and give us your remarks. Then we'll open the floor up for
questions with senators.
Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic and
Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic, National Defence: Thank you, Mr.
Chairman. Senators, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify before
the committee. As an operational commander of search and rescue in Canada, it is
an honour to be invited to provide you my thoughts on this essential element of
I have commanded the Halifax Search and Rescue Region since July 2013, and
will continue in my post until July 2017. The Halifax Search and Rescue Region
encompasses all of the Atlantic provinces, the eastern half of Quebec, the
southern half of Baffin Island and a large area of the western North Atlantic
Ocean. It is a very large area, one of three search and rescue regions in
Canada, and is indicative of the search and rescue effort in our country.
On regional challenges, in 2015, JRCC Halifax coordinated 2,502 SAR cases. Of
these, 1,760 were marine cases, 440 were aeronautical and 192 were humanitarian.
The most frequent type of marine search and rescue operation is to provide
assistance to disabled vessels and medical evacuation of ships' crew members
injured or ill at sea.
Under my authority, I authorize patient transfers on humanitarian grounds in
support of regional health authorities. This occurs most frequently in
Newfoundland and Labrador.
In my region, the distances are long, the weather challenging and the
emergency circumstances are often dire. Fortunately, Canadian SAR forces are
crewed by exceptional men and women who are passionate in their duties,
extremely well-trained and -equipped and have developed formidable experience
The region experiences the highest volume of SAR incidents between May and
September, the peak period for cruise ships, coastal fisheries, commercial and
recreational traffic and adventurer activities. It is also the season when
tropical storms are most common.
The winter is the most dangerous for mariners and SAR crews alike.
Low-pressure systems churn up the ocean. There is little rest from high winds,
rough seas, icing conditions and snow. SAR aircraft routinely reposition to
regional airfields to ensure they avoid the worst conditions that would
otherwise close their home bases. Survival time in the water for unprotected
victims is reduced to minutes.
A constant flow of global commerce to and from the United States passes
through this region. Voyaging in the wintertime North Atlantic necessitates
storm avoidance in routing through seasonal pack ice. Later in the spring,
impenetrable fogs blanket the eastern seaboard, and mariners must navigate with
caution past innumerable icebergs. For these reasons, some of the worst maritime
disasters have occurred during this season, including the oil rig Ocean
Ranger, the jack-up rig Rowan Gorilla I, the fishing vessel Andrea
Gail, the oil tanker MV Flare/P3GL2, fishing vessel
Melina and Keith II and the fishing vessel Miss Ally, to name but a
Along Canada's broad Atlantic continental shelf lies some of the world's most
difficult-to-extract energy reserves: Canada's only developed offshore
production areas. The oil and gas deposits of offshore Nova Scotia and
Newfoundland and Labrador demand permanently assigned SAR forces contracted from
industry and working in close liaison with federal capabilities.
As much as these massive offshore sites are a constant source of human
activity on the high seas, and therefore a SAR concern, they offer a remote base
for refueling and to land on for helicopters in the conduct of their SAR duties
over the deep ocean. Similarly, new mining activities in the North and the
modern merchant ships that service them offer SAR resources in the event of SAR
cases in those remote areas.
Cruise ships are now regular visitors to the Atlantic Provinces and
increasingly into the North, as highlighted by the planned Northwest Passage
transit of the Crystal Serenity in 2016. The passage of thousands of
visitors in our coastal waters raises the spectre of a major maritime incident.
Increasingly, adventure and ecotourism agents are operating in northern waters
where deep fjords, abundant marine life and icebergs are the backdrop of
All this demands the active management of interagency relationships, SAR
planning and open lines of communication in order to permit effective response
to maritime and aeronautical SAR cases.
On response, JRCC Halifax is responsible for coordinating, controlling and
conducting all aeronautical and maritime SAR responses. JRCC Halifax is manned
by specialist SAR operators from the Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Air
Force. The centre is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is the
nucleus of all East Coast SAR activities. It is co-located with the Marine
Security Operations Centre. The centre builds the detailed picture of shipping
in the region and aids the SAR first responders to quickly locate their target
and communicate with other vessels in proximity to the distress.
Information-sharing and dissemination, and directing a coordinated SAR
response employing a wide range of primary, secondary and community-based
capabilities is facilitated by the centre's co-location in the primary
operational headquarters of the Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic. The joint
task force ensures that SAR cases that progress to consequence management are
effectively managed with primary maritime and land partners.
In addition to JRCC Halifax, there is one Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre within
the Halifax area of responsibility, located in Quebec City, and MRSC Quebec
facilitates accurate SAR communication across the predominantly French areas of
northern New Brunswick, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the St. Lawrence River.
During SAR missions that require air support, MRSC Quebec requests assistance
from JRCC Halifax aeronautical coordinators.
SAR dispatchers examine many parameters, including current and future
environmental data like temperature, wind, waves and currents. They analyze
terrain, distance from the nearest available SAR assets, the severity of the
case and other ongoing cases in the region in order to determine the best SAR
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre then tasks resources, stages sustainment
forces for long searches, collaborates with a wide range of community and
government agencies and executes the rescue. In consultation with searching
forces, other government departments, adjoining search and rescue region
commanders and families, decisions are reached to transition to recovery or
transfer the case to another lead agency as the rescue phase terminates.
Aeronautical search and rescue assets are provided by 413 Transport and
Rescue Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, flying Hercules aircraft and CH-149
Cormorant helicopters. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 103 Search and Rescue
Squadron in Gander flies the Cormorant helicopter. Search and rescue aircraft
and air crew are on 30-minute standby during those hours of peak marine
activities and 2-hour standby during quieter evening hours.
The Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for the maritime component of the
federal SAR system. Canadian Coast Guard primary search and rescue units are
comprised of large multi-task vessels, SAR life boat stations and inshore rescue
boats strategically located along the coast. The Inshore Rescue Boat program is
operated and maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard, and is located in high
recreational areas during the summer season. Warships of the Royal Canadian Navy
are frequently asked to provide primary SAR readiness when operating in Atlantic
The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer service operated by local
mariners and supported by the Canadian Coast Guard. The Marine Communications
and Traffic Services centres coordinate marine communications and manage vessel
traffic movements. These radio operators work in conjunction with the Joint
Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax by advising mariners of developing SAR
cases, which is an integral part of a successful SAR system.
SAR secondary assets, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Royal Canadian
Air Force aircraft and vessels of opportunity play an important role in SAR. At
5 Wing Goose Bay, 444 Squadron maintains a small fleet of Griffin helicopters
for local airfield support associated with NATO and national air force training
missions executed at the Wing. These aircraft have limited SAR capability and
are employed on a case-by-case basis to assist with SAR cases. An emergency
transfer of a patient yesterday occurred involving one of these aircraft. It
rescued a severely burned member of Hopedale on the Labrador coast and
transferred the victim to Goose Bay.
The Canadian SAR system is one of the best in the world, owing to the
cooperation and teamwork demonstrated by the network of government and civilian
organizations and volunteers that make up the SAR system. SAR works as one
component of a bigger system, including the regulation of construction, SAR
equipping and crew qualification. Prevention and communications are other
components. Volunteerism is an essential element. Bystanders, nearby ships and
private and commercial aircraft organize SAR auxiliaries, and community
emergency response volunteers are essential to successful search and rescue in
SAR partners include the Joint Task Force Atlantic and other Canadian Armed
Forces elements, Rangers of the Canadian Army, the Canadian Coast Guard, the
Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Public
Safety Canada, Transport Canada, Canadian Border Services Agency, Public Works
and Government Services Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, provincial
emergency management offices, Public Health Agency of Canada, Parks Canada and
many other Canadian government departments, as well as provincial and municipal
Foreign interactions occur with authorities of the United States Navy, the
United States Coast Guard, the Danish joint Arctic Command and SAR authorities
in Portugal and England.
The Halifax Search and Rescue Region shares ocean boundaries with a number of
regions, including Boston. The Boston region is a particularly busy zone, and
frequent interactions are necessary between JRCC Halifax and JRCC Boston to
coordinate a joint U.S.-Canadian response to an emergency.
In addition to these agencies, the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue
System, Amver, is a close partner in most offshore cases. Participating
companies and merchant ships are often on scene quickly, aiding in search
efforts, evacuations of persons in peril and providing a lee from the weather or
reassurance to stricken vessels.
In the air, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, CASARA, contributes
spotters, air crew and aircraft on a voluntary basis to start SAR cases when
weather and distances permit. This association is funded by the Department of
National Defence and participates in annual SAR training exercises with the
Royal Canadian Air Force.
On request, Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Halifax will support ground
search and rescue operations in support of the RCMP on a case-by-case basis.
Considering the vast geography of the Halifax Search and Rescue Region and our
frequent callout to support ground search and rescue, engagement by the Canadian
Rangers is not an unusual occurrence.
On readiness, SAR technicians maintain readiness through a cycle of constant
training for real-life, all-season scenarios in the marine and land
environments. SAR techs are part of the SAR aircraft crew and must do air crew
training as well as formal SAR training in Comox, British Columbia. This is in
addition to upgrade training in the survival and medical specializations. The
national search and rescue exercise in 2014 took place in Goose Bay,
Newfoundland and was hosted by 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander.
For their part, the Canadian Coast Guard hosted the North Atlantic Coast
Guard Forum in 2014 and culminated their year of chairmanship with GUARDEX 2014,
showcasing SAR tactics and interagency cooperation in a two-day SAR event.
In order to maintain the preparedness, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre
and its partners, particularly Joint Task Force Atlantic and the Canadian Coast
Guard, carry out regular training scenarios. Training is robust and committed to
exercising the capability and skills of all partners to ensure that members of
the SAR system are a strong and well-prepared team.
Operation NANOOK 2014 exercised a major shipping disaster in Frobisher Bay.
In 2015, Joint Task Force Atlantic and JRCC Halifax SAR personnel helped plan
and execute the SAR response for the Stena IceMAX, a large, offshore
drill ship contracted to drill the Shelburne Basin off Nova Scotia.
This concludes my introductory remarks, and I look forward to answering your
questions. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, rear-admiral. Once again I apologize for the
late start to the meeting this evening due to the fact we were still sitting in
Senator Munson: Thank you, rear-admiral, for being with us via video
When you speak, it sounds very impressive. It sounds like that everything is
working and that there is a competent Armed Forces out there, with the Coast
Guard and others, doing their job. The geography of this country is immense, and
I'm curious to know your views.
First of all, just a general question: Do you have enough assets to do the
job the way you want the job done in assisting search and rescue?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. From my perspective as a commander,
having done the job day-to-day now for three years, I have adequate resources.
Where I feel shortages or pressures due to a maintenance issue or due to
distance and geography, I have worked out relationships or detailed plans for
how to ensure that we take the assets we've been fortunate to have been given
and move them into the SAR right away. I have not, to my mind, had a shortcoming
in using the equipment and personnel at my disposal to meet an emergent SAR in
the region over the last three years.
Senator Munson: Could you elaborate just a bit more on the maintenance
issue? How extensive is it? Has it cost millions? Do you have to fly others and
experts in to fix aircraft and other military equipment? Just how immense is
this maintenance issue you talk about?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Whether you're operating ships or operating
aircraft, there is a running maintenance program that you must address.
Equipment breaks, from time to time, and the Royal Canadian Air Force has
provided enough helicopters at the squadrons in Greenwood and the squadron in
Gander, Newfoundland, to manage any breakdowns that might occur in a particular
If there is a breakdown in the startup or the flight of an aircraft into a
mission, we immediately ask and are given a second resource from one of the two
squadrons. It is just the complexity of flying large aircraft; it's not
something I worry about. It's just the reality of flying large aircraft.
I would add, sir, that we take zero chance of flying a large helicopter with
five crewmen aboard out into the distant ocean or across large expanses of
water. We will not add five more victims to a search and rescue. The aircraft
are maintained at a very high state. If a weakness develops, the air crew knows
to terminate their flight, and I will find a second resource using the Joint
Rescue Coordination Centre.
Senator Munson: In the past, there has been controversy over Sea King
helicopters and their ability to react to — and I know they are a great
workhorse — situations of distress in Atlantic Canada. Do you still have
concerns over the aging Sea King helicopter?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Sea King helicopters are helicopters used on the
Royal Canadian Navy frigates. They, from time to time, are assigned a SAR
secondary role if a Cormorant helicopter, in Greenwood in particular, is not
serviceable. This is very rare occurrence but, should a search and rescue case
occur at sea, a Sea King will be flown from the nearest warship because we'll
use any resource of the Canadian Armed Forces if it's proximal to the search and
I would add, sir, that the Sea Kings are near the end of their life, and the
Cyclones have started transitioning into service. From my windows I watch the
Cyclones operate daily with the fleet from HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax. I
look forward, like everybody in Canada, to the day when our venerable Sea King
terminates over 50 years of service and the Cyclone starts its long period of
duty to Canada.
Senator Munson: Well, that's good news. It beats seeing a Sea King
landing in a schoolyard and the sort of thing that we have seen in the past not
so long ago, but that's yesterday's story. We're talking about today's story.
Just to change the subject of conversation a wee bit, how involved are you
with the Canadian Rangers? We all, in the South, applaud the Canadian rangers
for what they do in the North, but you seem so far away. You have talked about
cruise ships going through. We're talking about countries staking out their
claim to the North. We're talking about the issues of distress in the North and
the distances that the Armed Forces has to travel.
In some of our prepared notes it is said that the Canadian Rangers provide
patrols and detachments for national security and public safety. It talks about
the Canadian Armed Forces' role in this. Is this really enough to have the
Rangers in the North and not to have a stronger presence of the Canadian
military, both in rescue and in protecting our national security?
Rear-Admiral Newton: I'm very intimately engaged with the Canadian
Rangers. They are an army activity, but there are Canadian Rangers across
Newfoundland and Labrador. There are many hundreds of them. I often will turn to
my deputy joint task force commander, who is the commander of 5th Division, and
ask for the support of Rangers in particular coastal activities. Often, in
ground search and rescue cases that we are drawn into, they have already been
implicated by the local communities.
But, sir, I would say that, from Newfoundland and Labrador and all the way
into the Arctic, the Canadian Rangers are a very formidable force for
sovereignty for Canada. They are not an armed service for National Defence, but
they are key eyes and ears in the Canadian hinterlands. That is just one
activity of the Canadian Armed Forces in the North.
Since about 2002, you have watched a very robust level of activity by the
Canadian Armed Forces in the North in events like Operation QIMMIQ, Operation
NUNALIVUT, Operation NUNAKPUT and Operation NANOOK. As the Maritime Component
Commander for the Royal Canadian Navy, I deploy patrol ships North every year
and join the Canadian Coast Guard with their annual patrol activities. I think,
with the building of the Arctic offshore patrol ship and its capability married
to the Cyclone helicopter, Canada is implementing a very good Canadian Armed
Forces element to Northern sovereignty and security, sir.
Senator Munson: Thank you. Rear-Admiral, you're appearing before this
Fisheries Committee. We are talking about air, sea and rescue and helping people
in distress. You talked about the humanitarian work. You're saying a lot of good
things. That's very important, but surely there must be something you want to
make your job a little better.
There is a brand new government. There is a brand new minister on every
level. It's an opportunity, I would think, for the Armed Forces to publicly ask
for something that would make your life easier. Surely there is something there
you want to tell us.
Rear-Admiral Newton: It's a very good question, senator. I am thrilled
with a lot of the programs that are being implemented through the National
Shipbuilding Strategy: the movement toward the delivery of a fixed-wing SAR
aircraft, the building of the Arctic offshore patrol ship and the delivery of
the Cyclone helicopter. These will all to contribute to the sovereignty element
that is search and rescue.
I build a picture, on a daily basis, using a multitude of tools, through the
Marine Security Operations Centres. Anything that Canada can deliver to increase
the fidelity of surveillance and precision in the offshore, like what will be
provided through RADARSAT and the RADARSAT Constellation mission, both programs
moving through Defence procurement and Government of Canada procurement, are
thrilling pieces of news.
The other side of search and rescue, sir, is education, prevention and public
confidence. I think there is, in all three of these areas, work to be done. We
work in these areas and, no matter what the industrial or work domain you are
in, they are constants. You can never stop doing them. There is always a new
generation to educate. There is always public confidence to be maintained. If I
needed any help, it was in those areas of prevention, education about search and
rescue, and public confidence.
Senator McInnis: Thank you, rear-admiral, for appearing this evening.
We're not here to criticize. We're here to uncover any challenges that may
surround search and rescue. I just wanted to come back to the Canadian Rangers
for a moment. We always hear great things about them. Are they properly trained
to do maritime search and rescue? Do they have the marine capabilities?
Rear-Admiral Newton: You may have in your mind the vision of the
Rangers of the High Arctic, which are more land-based, but they are excellent
sailors too. They have their family boats and the like. I'm not really referring
to them when I talk about any kind of marine search and rescue in the coastal
In Newfoundland and Labrador the Rangers populate the coastal communities.
Often, we exercise with them in coastal and surveillance scenarios with search
and rescue aspects.
They have their own boats. These are 30- to 60-foot fishing boats that
Newfoundland designs, and they are very effective in coastal patrol, working
with the joint task force and the Canadian Army.
The Canadian Rangers are an activity of the Canadian Army, and any commentary
on how well trained they are should be answered by the Canadian Army. My own
personal opinion — I haven't worked with them frequently — is they are very well
trained in domains of ice, land movements, field craft and the coastal
activities in Newfoundland and Labrador. These are the main methods of
transportation along the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts.
Senator McInnis: Coming back to the North, it would appear to me that
most of your equipment is not up North; it's in the lower part of Canada. Does
that present a challenge? How is it that you handle the North? Are there many
incidents up there? Is it a challenge to get the equipment there in time?
Rear-Admiral Newton: The North is a very large area with very little
infrastructure and the communities are spread out. The maritime access to the
Canadian North is very limited in comparison to the Danish North. Ours is a
frozen, polar area whereas the Danish west coast, for instance like Greenland,
is more temperate, open and free of ice.
You've got these very severe environmental effects where you could
potentially or theoretically station a lot of search and rescue assets in the
North but find that the weather is a severe restriction to mobility and
readiness. We tend to stage in the South. We respond to the summer navigation
system and the bloom of activity associated with the change of the ice regime.
We have the capability, the major airline disaster kits, ready to be flown away.
We have at our access large helicopters, three-engine, long-range
helicopters, the long-range Hercules aircraft, and we start moving and staging
crews into the North. While we're doing that, the Joint Rescue Coordination
Centre is actually communicating with all the maritime and air resources of the
North. We have the contact lists, we have the shipping picture, and we
effectively bring the community of SAR providers — whether voluntary, proximal,
auxiliary, Rangers or community, in addition to the Canadian Armed Forces assets
— to bear on the target.
We have had four Arctic cases out of the 20 or so in the last year that were
all very successful, and I can list them.
There's Sergey Ananov who crashed his helicopter onto the ice. There was the
fishing vessel Atlantic Charger, with nine crew members, in Davis Strait.
There was Saputi with 30 crew members that managed to limp into Nuuk,
Greenland. Finally, there was the member of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut
and his two companions, one of them his son, which were all successfully engaged
by JRCC Halifax as Arctic search and rescue, amongst quite a few others of the
20 or so last year, sir.
Senator McInnis: Do you see a role that the private sector could play
in search and rescue in Canada, particularly in the North?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. I think we're already operating a bit
of a hybrid system in Canada with the offshore oil industry contracting standby
capabilities, as was dictated by the Wells commission after the Cougar air
crash. Mines and centres of industrial development in the North, by necessity,
have to contract aviation capabilities to move their own people, to resupply
their facilities and to do any kind of medical evacuation for their large
There is a case, let's say in the Mary River mine at the northern end of
Baffin Island, far from any of the permanent SAR infrastructure that I have, and
far from Iqaluit that has its own industrial support provided by contracted
services. That's including emergency management for their mine, firefighting and
rescue capabilities, airplanes and an airstrip and a seaport.
As much as this might look like up to a thousand people operating in the
North and a vulnerability from a search and rescue perspective, I view it as
opportunity. It gives me options for search and rescue in the North: there's an
airfield, there's a seaport, there's an ability to move a major airline disaster
kit in from Trenton into a new location that's just opening up as this mine
develops its capacity.
It is the same in northern Labrador at the nickel mine in Kuujjuaq, the
Raglan Mine. These are facilities that offer us bed-down points for our aircrew
or airfields to use a CC-130 lift to bring in additional resources if there was
an air crash in the North. It just gives us these little lily pads around the
North to operate from. I see opportunity more than I see risk.
Senator Raine: I really appreciate hearing from you. It's obvious that
the communications between the Armed Forces, the Coast Guard and all the search
and rescue organizations around Canada is very sophisticated and well
centralized. That's pretty necessary.
I'm a bit curious as to how the ears work. If you're out there in the
wilderness and you're calling a mayday, how does the message get to the Joint
Rescue Coordination Centre? Is there anything lacking?
Right now, with new technology coming out and the ability to have satellite
communication, I don't know if it's possible to require everyone who goes a long
way from their communities to carry locaters and things like that technology. We
were informed on the incident with the MLA in Nunavut, and I was shocked to find
out that he was not prepared for where he was, and yet they were rescued.
This brings to mind your role in public communication on safety. If you would
just comment on that, I will have another question.
Rear-Admiral Newton: That's a really good question, because there are
two elements to communications. One is how we physically communicate in the SAR
scenario, to raise the alarm or raise the alert that somebody is in trouble?
Second, how do we communicate, as a large interagency task force, to effectively
coordinate and communicate? There are systems for that.
Finally, how do we communicate the idea of prevention and education to the
greater public of Canada so they make smart decisions with regard to equipping
and what systems are really useful and I find essential, should we be heading
out into the wilderness of Canada.
I think I have to unpack it a bit and say that in an emergency in the
maritime domain, there are a number of ways to communicate, but the most common
way is the very high frequency radio. Channel 16 is permanently assigned to
search and rescue. There are no more electric words, whether given by a captain
of a ship or the pilot of a plane, than "mayday, mayday, mayday." It travels for
line of sight as powerful as the VHF radio can push it. Generally it's heard by
people in proximity, flying aircraft or, in this case, sailing ships.
Similarly, aircrew have a frequency that they call on that all aircraft
flying keep tuned into for air-to-air communication to avoid of collisions, so
there are these set frequencies.
Then for ships of certain tonnages, by law there are emergency
position-indicating beacons, and for airplanes there are emergency locating
transmitters that automatically raise a tone in our emergency communication
systems. In more modern systems they activate a SARSAT, a search and rescue
satellite system, and we get a position on the earth and get the indication that
somebody is having an emergency. There is a little bit of concern, in my mind,
that Canada has not yet mandated the most modern emergency locating transponder,
the 406-megahertz beacon. We still allow an older 121.5-megahertz beacon to be
used, and I don't get as much useful information from the old beacon. Slowly
Canada's beacon system is modernizing.
Finally, as you mentioned about the MLA in Nunavut, I think most Northern
communities — and I'd have to check — have provided, free of charge from their
hamlet offices, little spot beacons — personal beacons — that people can
activate that communicate with a satellite system and then back to a home office
that a hunter, trapper or snowmobiler is in trouble. Increasingly, these are
used by people who go into the hinterlands of Canada.
Finally, many people carry cellular or iridium phones that communicate
directly with a satellite in space, and you can make a normal phone call across
it. You will often see adventurers using these iridium phones because they're
posting actively to social media.
There is a host of communication technologies that are used, and only in the
worst cases — and I think it's more rare today — do people lack any kind of
communication technology. Sadly, that was the case in the Arctic. We had to go
by concerned members phoning in that the member hadn't arrived or been heard
from. It is a case where people should leave a route plan so that family or
supporting staff can notify the RCMP that somebody has failed to arrive as per
their route plan.
That's the communication from the emergency.
The bigger communication across the integrated search and rescue family is
done by phone; it is done by an information technology system called SARMaster,
which is getting old but which is in the full process of getting redeveloped or
developed anew by the Government of Canada. Right now, we're in the
project-definition phase. The system works for me. I know it is old. I know it
has its problems — it is a bit slow when a lot of operators get on it — but it
effectively manages search and rescue in Canada and, if need be, we can go back
to paper management of the cases.
On the final aspect of communications, I believe we could do a better job
with SAR prevention, but I'm not the authority for that. It is a shared
responsibility with other agencies, but as a search and rescue provider I do not
hesitate to work in the SAR-prevention domain. We go to communities frequently.
We participate in fisheries associations and fairs in the coastal communities.
The search and rescue squadrons bring their helicopters and personnel.
Whenever we're doing any kind of military exercise, we'll often meet with
municipal authorities and emergency response members, and we reaffirm with them
the communication structures that we use and the educational elements of search
and rescue, like positive-buoyancy life jackets, immersion suits, personal
beacons and other tools like flares that are very handy at keeping people alive
and ensuring rescue as quickly as possible.
Senator Raine: I'm from a mountain environment in the ski industry,
and we often have a lot of skiers going out of bounds and sometimes they get
into trouble. We had an amazing incident where some young people went out of
bounds and had to spend the night on the mountain. They video recorded each
other saying goodbye to their families because they thought they would die.
When they were eventually found, the authorities told them they had a penalty
to pay. They had to speak to most of the schools in the district about what they
did wrong. It was a tremendous learning opportunity. I would say it was probably
another 10 years before we had kids making those same mistakes. That was very
I sort of went off topic there, but would you care to comment on your
thoughts around cruise ships going through the Northwest Passage?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, ma'am. It's a great point. Human activity is
slowly increasing in the North, and there is a tendency for money to buy
recreation, adventure and extreme sports. This is increasingly being witnessed
in our North.
Cruise passengers have been visiting the North for quite a few years. At
first they were riding on chartered Russian icebreakers or chartered Academy of
Sciences ships like the Akademik Ioffe the Sergey Vavilov or the
Kapitan Khlebnikov — big ships purpose-built for the North.
There is a whole other variety of cruise ships purpose-built for the North
that has been cruising for a few years. You'll hear names like the MS
Hanseatic, and ships of that nature, built for Northern cruising. But they
only hold 200 to 500 passengers, let's say.
Most recently, we hear of the Crystal Serenity. It's a ship that
voyages the Alaska coast, and it is a cruise to Antarctica. It is a cruise ship
proper. It has a certain degree of ice rating, and it has been planning for two
years now to transit the Northwest Passage, which will be a first where we have
1,200 passengers and about to 200 to 300 or more crew members on board. I think
the total number of people on board will be somewhere between 1,500 and 1,700
In this regard, having been given fair notice, the Arctic Council has worked
through a series of tabletop and live exercises, Arctic Zephyr and Arctic
Chinook, working between coast guard districts in Alaska, Joint Task Force
North, the Canadian Joint Operations Command and the Danish joint Arctic
Command, to plan the consequence management pieces of a cruise liner in the
Canadian North. The threats are potential grounding, potential search and rescue
or medical evacuation.
In this instance, besides our planning, the cruise line industry itself, the
ship's owner or charterer is contracting a standby vessel, just like oil rigs
contract standby vessels, to facilitate any kind of rescue that is required
during the ship's transit of the Northwest Passage. In any mind, this is
probably a very thorough plan — far more than we've witnessed with the regular
cruise line industry that is plying the North.
I hope that answers your question, ma'am.
Senator Raine: So when they're going through, you'll be crossing your
fingers? Are you pretty confident there won't with a problem?
Rear-Admiral Newton: No, I am a watcher of ship activities in the
North. I am a partner in the Marine Security Operations Centre that is
headquartered in Halifax. I have partners in the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard,
the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canada Border Services Agency and
Transport Canada — I think I got them all.
We actually watch the Arctic and we watch all shipping. We watch for the
planned transit of vessels, whether in the Arctic or the Atlantic, to what
they're actually doing. We watch them as they pass through sensitive areas, like
marine protected areas, and pass sites like the HMS Erebus, which is a
protected heritage site. We watch their starts and stops along the coast — maybe
at an abandoned whaling station or in a community. We communicate through the
agencies I mentioned to keep our eyes on the ship and ensure that what we
predict they're going to do is what they actually do.
I don't, therefore, cross my fingers. I have my hand on a wooden spoon,
stirring the pot, so to speak. We're actively watching over these ships, whether
it's the Crystal Serenity, the Akademik Ioffe or a 50-foot yacht
whose owners are a loving husband and wife just thinking about transiting the
passage on a whim and a hope.
We're actively managing, ma'am.
Senator Raine: I appreciate that. Thank you.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation, rear-admiral. It's
great to know that we are well secured right in the North.
I know that you've been working with different organizations. How much do you
rely on private individuals, companies or maybe volunteers? Can you tell me what
percentage we rely on them, please?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. I've talked about the offshore oil
industry, which contracts standby vessels and search and rescue aircraft in the
event of a rig emergency. You can well imagine something like the Deepwater
We work very closely with the contracted partners, like Cougar or Canadian
Helicopters that's flying the Stena IceMAX in the Shelburne Basin. We
have to figure out who all these companies are. The industry knows to come to
us. We work with the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to
understand the rig activities and which companies are going to start working, so
we interact with those offshore petroleum development boards. It's the same for
Nova Scotia. Then the companies invite us to participate in their emergency
response plans, so we actually have a very interactive role in the development
with private industry and commercial entities to facilitate both a search and
rescue plan and a consequence management plan for these big sites offshore.
Search and rescue just doesn't occur out of the blue; it occurs against a
backdrop of routine surveillance of Canada's waters and land areas. As well as a
search and rescue commander, I am a surveillance commander and I have an
operation called LEVIATHAN. In the North there is a surveillance operation
called Op QIMMIQ, and on the West Coast there is one called SEA LION.
Search and rescue occurs against a backdrop of continuous surveillance and in
surveillance we contract a lot of air hours that are provided by authorities
like Provincial Aerospace. They help us survey the ocean. We put names to
contacts, we validate the tracks and then, with my partners in the rest of the
government, we dig in and understand who's in the crew, what kind of cargo is
being carried and the activities of those vessels. There is a contracted agent
we work with on a day-to-day basis called Provincial Aerospace Limited.
In the North we will often reach for an authority like Kenn Borek Air, which
is a very experienced northern flyer with twin otter type aircraft that are
well-suited to the North. We work with mine sites or geological survey companies
that may be flying helicopters, and we will request they join a search and I'm
an authority for paying for contracted services should that be the most proximal
way to execute a rescue. Kenn Borek Air has been used on several occasions
because of its proximity and expertise in getting to a search and rescue site.
These are just some of the ways, and if I thought longer I could generate a
longer list of how we interact with commercial agents.
Senator Enverga: What percentage of their services do you use? Do you
normally use them maybe 50 per cent of the time? How many times do you call them
and say "we need you"? Do you have any stats that tell how much you need them at
a certain point?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir, I understand the question. Anecdotally,
from my head, the vast majority of flying is done by Royal Canadian Air Force
helicopters and fixed-wing assets that are designated to me by the Royal
Canadian Air Force. I would have to go and dig out the statistics, and I will
provide you a specific answer to your question as to what number of flight hours
are provided by a voluntary agency like CASARA, which is civil aviation. They
are volunteers. We reach for them right away because they are part of the
Canadian SAR system. For my SAR region, I can also provide a list of how many
times we've contracted a civilian air company to join a search and rescue.
In my mind, though, the number is wildly and predominantly Royal Canadian Air
Force flying the Cormorants and the Hercules aircraft. With respect to
specifics, I will have to get back to you.
Senator Enverga: Thank you, sir. We will be expecting those numbers.
If we eliminated the private sector, what kind of efficiency could we get? Do
you think we would be more efficient with regard to maybe going into the SAR and
helping people, or is it more efficient at this time?
Rear-Admiral Newton: That's a good point, sir, because in Canada and
in the larger SAR regions of the world, and let's say we're somewhere between
number one and number ten in size. We're certainly not the biggest. In these
really large SAR regions around the world there is no government-provided
solution that will do it all. It would be wrong to build it because the
proximity of another ship or the proximity of a community or a civilian flyer
gives you the best response because time is of the essence. Always in search and
rescue time is of the essence.
If somebody in the civilian world happens to be there, you should reach for
it. If that's going to be the case, then you should nurture relationships with
civilian authorities, whether they're community or civil aviation or shipping
companies or fishing fleets. You should go out and nurture better relationships,
and that's what we do. Then we get more proximity and more people knowing how to
communicate. We get people eager to participate.
You can call it the Good Samaritan Act or go to the United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea but we all, as mariners and aviators, whether civil or
military, understand the fundamental requirement to help fellow humans because
tomorrow, as a ship's captain, I would expect you as a ship's captain to come to
my rescue because of proximity.
I think it's in the best interests of big Canada and the big Arctic to
nurture relationships with everybody and try to find the balance between federal
forces and commercial enterprise. That's the trick.
Senator Enverga: My major concern was that Cougar was here last time
and they told us that, although they have been helping people or the agencies,
sometimes they will be unable because their equipment is dedicated to a
particular place. How could we manage that in case they're not available? How do
we ensure we cover all the SAR needs?
Rear-Admiral Newton: As far as I know, Cougar does contracted search
and rescue and personnel movements to the oil rigs, and they get contracted by
other authorities like installations in the wilderness, dam sites or mines,
where that company feels it has to have its own standby capability, either to
move people or to send someone to hospital because they're working in a very
industrial setting. They are very much a contracted service provider.
I imagine that they have enough resources for each contract that they take. I
assume that is the case. On a big case, like the big Hebron rig we're just
building or the Hibernia rig that is already on the shelf, we all work together
because there's no way that Cougar alone and the standby ship alone can be the
rescue authority for the rig. We all know we must rush additional assets to the
circumstance because it's going to be a bad night, it's going to be cold, with
high seas, ice and fog, and everybody will be searching. We'll come to assist
and work parallel with Cougar, side by side with them.
We nurture a relationship there because we don't believe they will be able to
do everything, even though they're contracted. Again, it's part of this balance
of we need them but they need us, too, and we need a system where we all work
Senator Enverga: Can you assure us that they will always be there for
you to communicate with you or to join you?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Yes, sir. On really hard cases, we metaphorically
open the book on all the available assets that we can pull on in the really hard
cases. So Cougar, Universal and Canadian Helicopters are all well-known aviation
service providers in industry, and we have relationships with them. From time to
time, like with Provincial Aerospace who flies aircraft offshore for
surveillance, we will contract or task that aircraft to fly the top cover for
It's probably not well-known that when we fly deep-ocean missions with our
helicopters we are worried about our helicopter and the safety of those five
members over the ocean, so we will fly a fixed-wing aircraft with our helicopter
for the really long-range missions. Sometimes I get that escort from a
Provincial Aerospace aircraft based in St. John's, Newfoundland, because it's
the quickest way I can get an airplane to escort my helicopter.
I use this as an example of the constant dialogue with the commercial
authorities to provide support to us, and at the same time we are there for them
in the big rig emergencies or mine site disasters if a ground search and rescue
or a humanitarian patient transfer should arise. It's a network of people
working together, sir.
Senator Enverga: Thank you.
Senator Raine: You mentioned the automated mutual assistance vessel
rescue system. Is that really what we're talking about here? What does
"automated" mutual assistance system mean?
Rear-Admiral Newton: In the deep ocean, well beyond the range of
helicopters, there is a risk area of the North Atlantic. It's midway between us
and the Azores, or midway between Newfoundland and Ireland, and midway to the
south tip of Greenland there is this big hole in the ocean where helicopters
can't reach. In fact, helicopters just scratch the edge of the giant ocean
So a long time ago, merchant industry was approached and organized into a
system where merchant ships and participating companies would register their
ships and then they would be tracked by maritime authorities. In the event of an
emergency, we know which ships are very willing to actually stop, deviate from
their route and start searching. An automated system is used to alert these
vessels and to know where they are.
Having said that, pretty well all vessels feel obligated to search for fellow
mariners, and we rarely have a hard time getting somebody to participate in a
search. Sometimes you can get delayed on your passage and miss your slot in a
port for unloading, so it is a bit of a risk for merchant ships to get involved
in a search and rescue but they are very important to the task. They provide
shelter, they search and many, many times in the deep ocean they effect the
rescue, and we have cases of that this year. I just looked for a sailboat in the
middle of the Atlantic for two days, and the merchant ships in that area were
key to the search.
In the case of the Atlantic Charger, it was a Canadian merchant ship
that came to the rescue of the nine crew members. Although it didn't feel it
could take the risk of rescuing the Atlantic Charger crew, it provided
the shelter, proximity and a communication platform so we could manage the
search and rescue after the commercial vessel had located the Atlantic
Charger life raft. Big merchant ships are fundamental to the execution of
search and rescue on the North Atlantic, ma'am.
Senator Poirier: Thank you, rear-admiral, for being here. Quite a few
of my questions have already been touched on by some of my colleagues, but I
have a couple that I wanted to add on to those.
During the study we have been doing so far on the maritime search and rescue
programs, one of the issues that we have heard about a few times is the Arctic
challenges with the Northern traffic. I know some of my colleagues have touched
on that already.
Just last week, the committee heard from the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary,
and they mentioned to us that they had received extra funds to answer to some of
the Northern challenges.
As your budget currently stands, do you have adequate funds to respond to
Rear-Admiral Newton: I'm not budget-limited. I have been provided
aircraft, resources and the crews to fly them, and 40 hours a week of standby
number hours at 30 minutes' notice to fly, and the rest of the week at 2 hours'
notice to fly. The Coast Guard has enough big ships for the areas that we're
The fleets are all busy; nobody is not busy. The navy fleet is busy in
Canadian waters and deploying to the North. I am not personally budget-limited,
nor is the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre or the aircraft provided to me by
the Royal Canadian Air Force. The readiness seems to match the demand, and the
Air Force affords that level of readiness.
I don't usually think, ma'am, in terms of budget. We would have to go back to
the Air Force and ask if the number of hours they are providing me is taxing
their budget, but I have not heard those kinds of communications as a senior
Senator Poirier: Thank you. When a call is taken from the North area,
where is the help deployed from? How far do they have to go?
Rear-Admiral Newton: Our immediate response would be to reach for
community assets, commercial providers and experts in flying in the North. I
mentioned Borek before, and that's one type of industry that flies in the North.
Immediately on the call, without hesitation, a case is opened in my JRCC and
we task the big Cormorant helicopters to start flying North. They do it in three
hops. We also task immediately, either from Trenton or from Greenwood, Nova
Scotia, the big search and rescue Hercules aircraft to start flying. They have a
several-hour flight time — three to five hours — to get into the North to be
overhead and start communicating or searching for the lost mariners, victims in
lifeboats or a ship taking on water.
We don't wait and wait for those aircraft to arrive. We're always working
with any kind of merchant ships transiting the area, as was the case where the
nickel-carrying merchant ship came to the aid immediately of the Atlantic
Charger. We reach for a commercial air company or a Transport Canada Dash-8
on an ice patrol or environmental patrol; we look for any other Royal Canadian
Air Force assets flying in the North. In the case of 2013, where the adventurers
drifted out into the Northwest Passage while on an expedition to swim with the
narwhals, they were Griffin helicopters doing a mission in the north that turned
around, left their mission and rescued the people on the ice floe.
We do this very active management, reaching for everything we can in the
region. As a SAR authority, we have a great deal of authority and trust with the
partners we work with. If we use any kind of commercial entity, if demanded by
the authority, we will repay them for their hours. Otherwise, in that period of
time, the big air force from the South is flying north, but usually it's the
combined forces of things already in the North and the aircraft flying from the
South that reach the scene and deal with the emergency.
I would say, ma'am, that as we build the Arctic offshore patrol ship — we're
building, say, six of these ships, and they are developed to carry the Cyclone
helicopter and they can land Chinooks and Griffins on their deck — we are adding
to the Canadian inventory a new class of standby capability in the North that
will regularly patrol our waters. It is a big ship. It has command and control
facilities, communications, a very large flight deck, it has three large boats,
a large crane, can take medical staff and acts as a joint enabling capability
with all the other elements of the Canadian Armed Forces.
I think we're doing a good job now, and I think with the recapitalization of
the Coast Guard and the navy's building of the Arctic offshore patrol ships,
things will develop apace the change of activity in the North that we're
Senator Poirier: As the activities increase in the Northern areas, in
your opinion would what you have just described be the best solution?
Rear-Admiral Newton: There are several risks in the Arctic, whether
it's shipping, aircraft operation or whether it's just people on the land and
adapting to new circumstances with ice and climate.
I think there are quite a few things that are evolving from a capital point
of view. The RADARSAT Constellation Mission is going to give us a far better and
more precise picture of everything moving in Northern latitudes. Right now I
depend on or rely on, to some degree, RADARSAT-2. We're getting an increment in
quality and the number of passes above that.
We're building the Arctic offshore patrol ship. The Coast Guard and Fisheries
fleet is being recapitalized. The Canadian Air Force's C-17s and C-130Js fly
into almost all of the air strips in the North, whether dirt-covered or short.
The large Chinook helicopters are Arctic capable and being developed
increasingly for the Arctic. We move our Cormorant helicopters around the North,
despite the challenges of weather. They are built for all weather and are very
robust flyers. We are getting good communications with the Global Wideband
Satellite system that we're now using in the military.
Aside from the forces I've been given I see, in the Canadian Armed Forces,
quite a bit of development that is tuned to the North. You see an increased
invigoration of the Rangers and a far higher level of Canadian Armed Forces
activity in the North, whether it's the Arctic Response Company Group, Joint
Task Force North, me as the Maritime Component Commander in my patrol ships or
my role in northern Labrador as a Joint Task Force Commander, our work across
the straits with Denmark, and our work to the district of the U.S. Coast Guard
in Alaska. There is quite a convergence of capability that seems to be
developing apace the change of the ice and climate regime in the North. I see it
as a bit of a good thing. I don't think it's all in the search and rescue bucket
but, as a Canadian Armed Forces senior officer, I do see it having a
relationship to what we're trying to achieve with search and rescue.
Senator Poirier: Thank you very much. Thank you for all the great
information you have provided tonight.
Rear-Admiral Newton: You're welcome, ma'am.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee members, rear-admiral, I would
like to thank you for your time and your very interesting and informative
answers to the questions raised here this evening. Certainly it will add much as
we continue on with our study. I apologize again for the late start, but your
information has been wonderful. Thank you.
Members, I would ask for agreement on a motion to proceed in camera to
consider a draft agenda, just for a few moments, for future business. Agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(The committee continued in camera.)