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First commercial ship sails through Northwest Passage

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The Canadian Coast Guard has confirmed that in a major first, a commercial ship travelled through the Northwest Passage this fall to deliver supplies to communities in western Nunavut.

The MV Camilla Desgagnés, owned by Desgagnés Transarctik Inc., transported cargo from Montreal to the hamlets of Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak in September.

"We did have a commercial cargo vessel that did the first scheduled run from Montreal, up through the eastern Arctic, through the Northwest Passage to deliver cargo to communities in the west," Brian LeBlanc of the Canadian Coast Guard told CBC News.

"That was the first -- that I'm aware of anyway -- commercial cargo delivery from the east through the Northwest Passage."

New era in Arctic shipping?

For a ship to be able to travel through the Northwest Passage, which has historically been impassable with thick ice, had some wondering if the MV Camilla Desgagnés is heralding a new era in Arctic shipping.

Louie Kamookak, the director of hamlet housing and public works in Gjoa Haven, said tugboats and barges usually deliver supplies from the west. Residents were surprised to see the MV Camilla Desgagnés come in from the east, he said.

"Looks like it's going to be more shipping or ships travelling, with the ice clearing up north of this area," Kamookak said.

Kamookak said the vessel brought the hamlet some municipal equipment, including a sewage truck. It also provided local co-op stores with supplies.

'I didn't see one cube of ice'

The hamlet of Gjoa Haven will compare the costs of getting supplies shipped from the west versus the east, in order to see which direction may be cheaper.

Desgagnés Transarctik used the MV Camilla Desgagnés because it is a super ice-class vessel, said Waguih Rayes, the general manager of the company's Arctic division.

Rayes, who was on the vessel during its trip through the Northwest Passage, said the company informed the coast guard, which put an icebreaker on standby.

"They were ready to be there for us if we called them, but I didn't see one cube of ice," he said.

"They were informed about our presence [and] they were ready to give us the support needed. However, since there was no ice whatsoever, the service was not needed, we didn't call for it."

Rayes said he's proud to know his company, which is a managing partner of Nunavut Sealink and Supply, is the first to deliver sealift cargo through the fabled Arctic waterway.

He added that the company plans to transport cargo through the Northwest Passage again next fall.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.