To Lay Or Not To Lay A Submarine Cable In Canada

Jean-François Bilodeau reviews the legislation enacted to protect local cable laying operators that must be considered in Canadian waters.By Jean-François Bilodeau
March 25, 2021

Undersea fibre optic cables represent one of the most cost-efficient and reliable mechanisms to build high-speed telecommunications services to the population separated by large bodies of water. The installation or repair of subsea cables in Canada requires particular knowledge of statutory and regulatory provisions design to protect local owners.

In this article, we will review the legislation enacted to protect local cable laying operators that must be considered when operating in Canadian waters.

Let us imagine you have been awarded a contract by public tender to design, manufacture and install a subsea cable within Canadian waters to link communities separated by a large body of water. Many issues will require your attention but you will have to focus the laying operations on the vessel that will perform the installation and repairs during the lifecycle of the cable. The selection of a cable-laying vessel will depend on the amount of cable laid, the location and sea conditions prevailing in the selected area and the availability of support facilities for the vessel and crew.

You will also need to be aware of the Coastal Trade Act[1] (the “Act”) which provides that foreign ships shall not engage in any marine activity of a commercial nature in Canada unless allowed by a licence.

The initial ass#_ftn1essment of your options will require a determination on the availability of a Canadian operator to perform the envisioned installation. In the event, no Canadian operators are available or suitable, you may charter a foreign ship that will require a coastal trade license to perform the activity or you may decide to enter a foreign ship into the Canadian bareboat registry.

We will review the three options and discuss their advantage and difficulties from the Canadian law perspective.

The Canadian Owned Vessel Solution

The hiring of a Canadian cable laying vessel would be the preferred solution because the Act is designed to protect Canadian shipping from the import of foreign ships to operate in local waters.

The term “Canadian Ship” is defined in the Act as a vessel registered in the Canadian Register as provided in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001[2]. This Act also defines “Foreign Ship” as a vessel that is not a Canadian vessel.

* The author wishes to thank his colleagues at BLG, Jean-Marie Fontaine, partner and Nigah Awj, associate for their research and comments used in drafting the present article.

To continue reading the rest of this article, please read it in Issue 117 of the SubTel Forum Magazine on page 72 or on our archive site here.