One Ocean, One Ship

If you were wondering why Andrew Prossin of One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), the Canadian cruise line specializing in Arctic and Antarctic cruises, canceled his keynote address at Sydney’s Port Days this year, you may have gotten your answer this morning:

The Russian Academy of Sciences P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, from which OOE leases two of its vessels — the Ioffe and the Vavilov — has unexpectedly canceled the leases.

OOE is down to one vessel — the RCGS Resolute. (The RCGS stands for Royal Canadian Geographic Society, OOE’s “partner” in the Canadian North.)

This, as you can imagine, has thrown a wrench into the company’s 2019 cruise schedule, although the impact on the Port of Sydney (despite the breathless news announcements about OOE last year) doesn’t appear to be that serious — the Port had expected seven visits in 2019, only two from the Ioffe, the rest from the Resolute. (Although it’s hard to say exactly because the cruise dates on the OOE website don’t match up with the cruise schedule posted on the Port of Sydney website. For example, the website lists a Canadian Arctic and Greenland tour leaving from Louisbourg on August 7 but the vessel, the RCGS Resolute, is not listed as being in port that day on the cruise schedule.)


Safety standards

Looking for clues as to why the leases were canceled, I stumbled across a reference to an incident I can’t believe I missed last summer: the Akademik Ioffe ran aground near Nunavut on August 24.

Emiliano Qirngnuq (Beth Brown / Nunatsiaq News)

According to media reports, the vessel ran aground in “uncharted waters” in the Gulf of Boothia near Kugaaruk, Nunavut. All the passengers — about 126 researchers and One Ocean staff — were safely evacuated.

According to the Nunatsiaq News, the vessel headed south “on its own power” on September 14 and reached its final destination — Les Méchins, Quebec, on Sept. 25, before returning to Russia.

An OOE news release immediately following the incident said there had been no injuries and no environmental damage as a result of the incident, but a May update from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB), which continues to investigate the incident, said the 117-meter vessel had “sustained major hull damage” resulting in the leak of about 80 liters of fuel.

Emiliano Qirngnuq, the MLA representing Kugaaruk, raised the Ioffe grounding in the Nunavut Legislature in an October 29th members’ statement, saying that while the marine tourism industry had the potential to provide economic benefits to Northern communities, the increase in cruise ship visits:

…needs to be accompanied by appropriate safeguards to ensure the protection of the environment and the people.

Of the Ioffe grounding, he said:

…although we are very grateful that no lives were lost during this incident and that there appears to have been no serious damage to the environment, it should serve to remind us of the risks in this field.

According to the Nunatsiaq News, the TSB will:

…rank the seriousness of the event using a five-point scale. If the Akademik Ioffe grounding is ranked as a Class 3 occurrence, new safety lessons will be identified to reduce risks to people, property or the environment.

The report for a Class 3 occurrence would be up to 30 pages and would take 450 days to produce.

Interestingly, on 14 February 2019, the Canadian government held an emergency management training session for public servants in Nunavut which it promoted with the come-along:

Do the Iqaluit Northmart store fire, the grounding of the Akademik Ioffe cruise ship and the major satellite outage in 2016 concern you? Are you interested in the field of public security?

With the help of experienced speakers and concrete examples from recent years in Nunavut, this training will address the role of Public Safety Canada and other federal organizations in such situations, as well as the role of the Government of Nunavut in matters of emergency management.

Also worth noting, in a press release about the lease cancelations, Prossin stated:

Both the Ioffe and Vavilov have been great for us but they were nearing the end of their shelf life as they aged and became harder to maintain to our standards. However, we would have preferred to have had some input into when they were retired.

The Ioffe and Vavilov were built in 1988, which means they’ve been in service for 31 years.

But OOE’s “new” vessel — the RCGS Resolute — was built in 1991 and according to Cruise Industry News, OOE has options to extend the lease to 2028. At which time the vessel will have been in service for 37 years.


Uncharted waters

This article can do double duty as “A Word from Your Planet,” because the environmental concerns surrounding Arctic shipping are obvious.

One of the passengers aboard the Ioffe when it ran aground last August was Edward Struzik, who had been commissioned by Yale Environment 360 to report on climate change in the Arctic. He wrote a first-person account of the incident for the Nunatsiaq News under the headline, “Canada is unprepared for the dangers of increased Arctic shipping.”

Akademik Ioffe

Akademik Ioffe

Struzik said the vessel came to “a violent stop” after grounding and that:

It took nearly nine hours for a Hercules aircraft to fly in from the Royal Canadian Air Forces’s Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., 12 hours for another RCAF plane to come in from Winnipeg and 20 hours for a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter to fly over. By then we were boarding the Akademik Vavilov, a Russian sister ship that had come to the rescue.

They were lucky, he said, had the weather not worked in their favor:

Powerful winds could have spun us around on that rock, possibly ripping a hole into the hull that might have been bigger than the one that was presumably taking in the water that we saw being pumped out of the ship. Thick ice grinding up against the ship would have made it almost impossible to get everyone off into lifeboats.

Struzik noted that only 10% of the Arctic Ocean in Canada and less than 2% of the Arctic Ocean in the US is charted and:

Only 25 per cent of the Canadian paper charts are deemed to be good. Some of the U.S. charts go back to the days of Capt. James Cook and Capt. George Vancouver and the time when the Russians owned Alaska.

Add to that the fact that there are no ports in the North American Arctic “from which to stage a rescue or an oil spill cleanup,” that icebreakers are “few and far between” and that weather-forecasting abilities are “poor” and you have all the portents of a future disaster, said Struzik, noting:

Our ship, for example, was forced to make a last-minute change to the starting route because of ice that was blocking passage into Resolute Bay. Recognizing the challenges, two cruise companies reportedly cancelled their expeditions this year on short notice.

Struzik says there is “a lot” that can be done to improve the situation and reduce future risks but that as things stand now, “we are not prepared.”

Featured image: Akademik Ioffe in Gulf of Boothia via Nunatsiaq News.