As most Northern Canadians are aware, as of July 1, 2010, a vessel entering or sailing in Canada’s northern waters must report to Canadian authorities as to the vessel’s position, destination, ice class, etc. These new regulations, adopted under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, establish the “NORDREG” Vessel Traffic Services Zone (the NORDREG Zone), in order to foster navigational safety and environmental protection. This comes at a time when global climate change, decreased ice cover in the Northwest Passage, longer navigation seasons and heightened economic activity north of the 60th parallel are combining to increase the volume of maritime traffic in our northern waters. There are 16 Shipping Safety Control Zones included within the NORDREG Zone. Virtually all waterways and coastal areas in Canada’s North reside within one of these zones.

In addition, the NORDREG Zone includes the waters of Hudson Bay, Ungava Bay, Kugmallit Bay and Chesterfield Inlet that are not within any Shipping Safety Control Zone, as well as the waters of James Bay, the Koksoak River from Ungava Bay to Kuujjuaq, Feuilles Bay from Ungava Bay to Tasiujaq, Baker Lake and Moose River from James Bay to Moosonee.

The vessels required to report include: 1) vessels of 300 gross tons or more; 2) vessels engaged in towing or pushing one or more other vessels if their combined gross tonnage is 500 gross tons or more; and 3) vessels carrying as cargo a pollutant or dangerous goods, or which are engaged in towing or pushing one or more other vessels carrying such a cargo. All vessels in those classes (Canadian or foreign-flagged) are obliged by the Regulations to report to the Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centre, at least 24 hours before entering the NORDREG Zone or when they leave port if they are less than 24 hours away from the Zone. The MCTS is run by the Canadian Coast Guard and operates out of Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the navigation season, and from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, in the off-season.

In order for a vessel to obtain a clearance to enter or proceed within the NORDREG Zone, the information to be provided to the MCTS includes basic details about the vessel (e.g. her name, state of registry, ice class, call sign and IMO number, name of authorized representative, agent or owner), as well as her position, course, speed, last port of call, destination, intended route, draught, cargo (including dangerous goods and pollutants), defects, deficiencies and damage; weather and ice conditions; quantity of oil aboard as fuel or cargo and number of persons aboard.

Enforcement of the NORDREG Regulations will be done by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Fines can be up to $100,000. per person or vessel and/or imprisonment for up to one year. Only limited defences are permitted. The offending vessel may also be detained.