Monday, September 30, 2013

How S/V EMPIRICUS, an 18-ton sailboat, was lifted out onto the beach in the Canadian Arctic hamlet of Cambridge Bay.

How S/V EMPIRICUS, an 18-ton sailboat, was lifted out onto the beach in the Canadian Arctic hamlet of Cambridge Bay.

So how do you arrange to have a 50 foot sailboat weighing about 18 tons lifted out of the sea and placed on the beach for a 10 month winter stay in the Arctic?

CAREFULLY... and with LOTS OF PATIENCE... says skipper Jesse Osborn.

Read the full story online at:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Two yachts with same NW Passage intentions but ultimately make different decisions with different outcomes

Both yachts crossed the Russian Northern Sea Route to PevekRU to checkout of the Russian vessel traffic system (VTS).

Both yachts started out to attempt a single-season Arctic Circumnavigation counterclockwise (West-to-east).
S/V TARA made the decision to continue from Pevek on or about 20130907 choosing a direct route to Tuktoyaktuk NWT Canada to hurry along their attempt on a route in the legendary Northwest Passage knowing there were definite sea ice choke-points which meant risking wintering over if there was no icebreaker services to help them through the ice.

S/V LADY DANA 44 made a totally different decision upon reaching Pevek Russia on or about September 16th to not challenge the Northwest Passage so late in 2013 but rather to sail some 3,400 miles through the stormy Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean to winter over in Vancouver B.C. Canada until next year to resume their voyage.

Why do you think that each boat made such a different decision?

1. TARA is a 36m aluminum expedition schooner motor-sailer with 5,000 miles cruising range while the LADY DANA 44 is a 14.3m steel sloop sailboat with a 74hp main engine with unknown fuel capacity and range.

2. Wintering over - TARA has spend years in the ice wintering over because of her specific design and construction. LADY DANA 44 was built for northern latitudes cruising.

3. Organizations. TARA is owned by business owners and sponsored by France. (I believe Canada was influenced to provide icebreaker services.) LADY DANA 44 is privately owned and group funded.

4. Risks. Subjecting a yacht and crew to sea ice is dangerous at best. It was late in the season with known multiple ice choke-points. It would be extremely poor judgement to attempt such a late season transit without a commitment for icebreaker escort services. Canada was not willing to make a a commitment for a 14m private yacht so late in the transit season. Erroring on the side of safety, LADY DANA 44 made a very wise decision.


Since TARA did not cross the Bering Strait Arctic Circle their Arctic Circumnavigation will NOT include an official Northwest Passage and likely NOT include an official Northern Sea Route. Upon completion of TARA's single-season Arctic Circumnavigation it will be star "*" noted with "required icebreaker assistance". 

LADY DANA 44 on the other hand has crossed the Bering Sea Arctic Circle and will once again cross it next year when they resume their voyage. In the final record books LADY DANA 44 will achieve an Arctic Circumnavigation which took two years and includes a Northern Sea Route and likely Northwest Passage in 2014.

Two different decisions with two different outcomes.

Check back for updates...

S/V TARA website:

S/V LADY DANA 44 website:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

S/V TARA pushing through final ice choke-point to reach open water in Lancaster Sound thanks to CCGS LOUIS S. ST-LAURENT

S/V TARA in Tuktoyaktuk NWT- Photo credit: M. Hertau/Tara Expeditions

S/V TARA (FRA) is attempting a single-season 
Arctic Circumnavigation counterclockwise (West-to-east)...

S/V TARA departed Tuktoyaktuk to the east on the 21st of September 2013, knowing that the Northwest Passage was blocked with 5/10 to 9/10 sea ice concentration at multiple locations which did not leave another eastern route out of the Arctic unless one or more of these choke-points opened before hard freeze-up around October 15th.

TARA has made it through Bellot Strait last night and is northbound in Prince Regent Inlet attempting to find a route through what is reported to be 9/10 sea ice concentration.

Now it becomes important that you understand how to interpret ice chart "egg code" nomenclature. Why? Because it is not just about total ice concentration but also about the partial concentration, stages of development, age of the ice, and the form or floe size. Lets check the 'egg codes' out.  


The World Meteorology Organization (WMO) system for sea ice symbology is more frequently referred to as the "Egg Code" due to the oval shape of the symbol.
So Sd

Ct - Total concentration of ice in area, reported in tenths. May be expressed as a single number or as a range, not to exceed two tenths (3-5, 5-7 etc.)

Ca Cb Cc - Partial concentration (Ca, Cb, Cc) are reported in tenths, as a single digit. These are reported in order of decreasing thickness. Ca is the concentration of the thickest ice and Cc is the concentration of the thinnest ice.

Sa Sb Sc - Stages of development (Sa, Sb, Sc) are listed using the code shown in Table 1 below, in decreasing order of thickness. (NOTE: If there is a dot (.), all stages of development codes to the left of the dot (.) are assumed to carry the dot (.)) These codes correspond directly with the partial concentrations above. Ca is the concentration of stage Sa, Cb is the concentration of stage Sb, and Cc is the concentration of Sc.

So Sd - Development stage (age) of remaining ice types. So if reported is a trace of ice type thicker/older than Sa. Sd is a thinner ice type which is reported when there are four or more ice thickness types.

Fa Fb Fc - Predominant form of ice (floe size) corresponding to Sa, Sb and Sc respectively. Table 2 below shows the codes used to express this information.

Table 1. Egg Codes for Stages of Ice Development (Sx Codes)
Stage of Development
for Sea Ice
Stage of Development
for Fresh Water Ice
New Ice-Frazil, Grease, Slush, Shuga (0-10 cm)1New Ice (0 - 5 cm)
Nilas, Ice Rind (0 - 10 cm)2
Young (10 - 30 cm)3
Gray (10 - 15 cm)4Thin Ice (5 - 15 cm)
Gray - White (15 - 30 cm)5Medium Ice (15 - 30 cm)
First Year (30 - 200 cm)6
First Year Thin (30 - 70 cm)7Thick Ice (30 - 70 cm)
First Year Thin - First Stage (30 - 70 cm)8First Stage Thick Ice (30 - 50 cm)
First Year Thin - Second Stage (30 - 70 cm)9Second Stage Thick Ice (50 - 70 cm)
Medium First Year (70 - 120 cm)1.Very Thick Ice (70 - 120 cm)
Thick First Year (>120 cm)4.
Old - Survived at least one season's melt (>2 m)7.
Second Year (>2 m)8.
Multi-Year (>2 m)9.
Ice of Land OriginTriangle with dot.

Table 2. Egg Codes for Forms of Ice (Fx Codes)
Forms of Sea IceCode
Forms of Fresh Water Ice
~FBelts and Strips symbol
followed by ice concentration
New Ice (0-10 cm)X
Pancake Ice (30 cm - 3 m)0
Brash Ice (< 2m)1
Ice Cake (3 - 20 m)2
Small Ice Floe (20 - 100 m)3
Medium Ice Floe (100 - 500 m)4
Big Ice Floe (500 m - 2 km)5
Vast Ice Floe (2 - 10 km)6
Giant Ice Floe (> 10 km)7
Fast Ice8Fast Ice
Ice of Land Origin9
Undetermined or Unknown
(Iceberg, Growlers, Bergy Bits)

So now lets put this knowledge to practical use. Below is yesterday's ice chart for Prince Regent Inlet and further below is the newly released ice chart for today in Prince Regent Inlet.

Yesterday - 20130927 - "P" CODED ICE CHOKE-POINT.

Today - 20130928 - "H" & "I" CODED CHOKE-POINT




TAKE YOUR PICK?  1="SLUSH ICE" 0-5cm OR 4="GRAY ICE" 10-15cm?


Here is where TARA is at on 20130928 at noon local time:


Tara Expéditions added photos on September 28, 2013.

Photos credit by:
F.Aurat/Tara Expéditions
V.Hilaire/Tara Expéditions
B.Régnier/Tara Expéditions

Tara was escorted several hours yesterday by Canadian Coast Guard Ship LOUIS S. ST-LAURENT.

"The Northwest Passage has been taken!" according to TARA. 

(But it will not be an official NW Passage since TARA did NOT cross both Arctic Circles - the Bering Strait's Arctic Circle nor the Davis Strait's Arctic Circle (yet).

20130930 UPDATE - What is TARA doing going in circles?

John Rae statue to be unveiled in Orkney

John Rae statue to be unveiled in Orkney

Explorer John Rae will have a statue erected in his honour in Orkney. Picture: Comp


A statue to honour Scots Arctic explorer John Rae – who condemned himself to obscurity for revealing a previous British expedition had resorted to cannabalism – is to be unveiled in his birthplace of Orkney.
The event at Stromness Harbour is to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth and celebrate Rae for solving two mysteries of 19th-century exploration.

Born in Orphir on the islands in 1813, he later signed up with the Hudson’s Bay Company – with the fur trade in Canada at its peak – and charted huge areas of unmapped territory using his surveying skills.

He uncovered the fate of an earlier expedition by Sir John Franklin, which included the discovery that the crew had turned to cannabalism in a bid to survive.

He also discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage, the navigable Arctic route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

He found the route while looking for traces of the Franklin Expedition, who themselves had been searching for the Passage.

In 1854, he recorded accounts from local Inuits, who said that some of Franklin’s crew had resorted to cannibalism in a last desperate effort to stay alive.

He reported his findings to the British admiralty, but was horrified when they appeared in anewspaper article.

Victorian society, including Franklin’s widow, was left scandlaised, and Dr Rae’s reputation never recovered.

He died in 1893 in relative obscurity and his memorial lies in Orkney’s St Magnus Cathedral.

A statue to honour Dr Rae will be publicly unveiled on Saturday evening at the Pier Head in Stromness.

The donor of the statue – who has wished to remain anonymous until the ceremony - is expected to make a speech at the unveiling.

There will be an opening performance by members of the Stromness Royal British Legion Pipe Band.

The unveiling of the full size bronze statue, made by the Orcadian sculptor Ian Scott of North Ronaldsay, takes place on the first day of the John Rae 200 International Conference being held in Stromness and hosted by Stromness Museum from September 28-30.

A stone plinth of local granite donated by Orkney Islands Council is already in place ready to receive the sculpture.

Orkney Islands Council Vice-Convener Jim Foubister said: “We are pleased to be contributing in some small way during this important year to a permanent reminder of the achievements of John Rae.

“To many Orcadians, John Rae has not had the recognition he deserves for too long now.

“I hope the statue will capture the imagination of people both in Orkney and further afield and help to strengthen his place in history.”

Sculpton Ian Scott also made the well-known statue of the lifeboat man at Osmundwall Cemetery which stands as a memorial to those lost in the Longhope lifeboat disaster.


Cannibalism and cover-up: Why history spurned Orkney’s John Rae

Scottish Explorer John Rae ‘should be honoured’

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What might it cost to be rescued in the Arctic - MILLIONS OF DOLLARS

Canadian military spent $2.7 million to rescue wealthy tourists off of breakaway ice floe

It cost Canada’s military $2,748,046 to rescue wealthy tourists and a hunting party from a drifting Arctic ice floe this summer after planes and helicopters from five provinces were scrambled to the north — while the tourists were being served dinner in a heated dining tent.

Highlighting the enormous costs of operating in Canada’s far north, the astounding bill for the June operation does not even include the expenses for the RCMP or local rescuers who were also involved.

The military was called on June 25 after an ice floe on Admiralty Inlet, near Arctic Bay on Baffin Island, broke away during the night with a tour group and an Inuit hunting party camping atop.

The rescue mission started after the tour group — comprised of 10 tourists from Japan, Jordan, Australia, Britain, France, United States and Canada and 10 staff — noticed the floe, 50 kilometres long and 25 km wide, was drifting toward the Northwest Passage.

By far the largest cost was sending in aircraft.

Rescuers descend on Nunavut after ice floe carrying tourists suddenly breaks away from land
Reality TV stars crossing Northwest Passage require costly rescue after path through Arctic blocked by ice
Michael Den Tandt: After the photo ops, Harper must deliver on promises in the Arctic

Deployed for the mission were three CC-130h Hercules transport planes, two Ch-146 Griffin helicopters and a Ch-149 Cormorant helicopter. The aircraft came from bases in Winnipeg, Trenton, Ont., Greenwood, N.S., St. Hubert, Que., and Gander, N.L.

The military factors in the cost of fuel, maintenance, flight crews, ground and operational support and amortized procurement to determine its flight costs: The rate per flying hour for a Hercules is $30,792; for a Griffon, $11,919; and for a Cormorant, $32,325.

RCAF An aerial photo of the tourists and hunters stranded on an ice floe on Admiralty Inlet.

The total cost for the aircraft deployed in the rescue was $2,270,282, according to internal military documents obtained by the National Post through the Access to Information Act. Even absent the amortized costs of the craft, the raw expense of flying was $1,044,302.

The first Hercules to arrive dropped a “radio message dropper” to both groups, so those on the ground could talk to crews in the air. Over the mission, five were deployed, each costing $493.37.

The 11-member hunting party signalled they were “all OK” and “too busy to talk,” a military mission report said. The tour group, however, was concerned the ice was “making large ominous sounds.”

Three sea-rescue survival kits — consisting of a six-person life raft, survival equipment and radio — were airdropped to the tourists “just as a precaution.” Each costs $23,000, weren’t needed but cannot be reused.

Also airdropped were five waterproof radio transmitters, costing $352.96 and five light markers at $62.93 each, according to a “Miscellaneous Loss Report” filed after the mission.

Operations in the Arctic typically cost extra.

The daily food allowances for personnel on duty in Nunavut are almost double those in most parts of Canada: $70.30 for a supper in Nunavut as opposed to $41.75. Hotels are also more expensive. A room in Arctic Bay cost $231 per night.

There was a total of $2,688 spent on meals, accommodation and incidentals.

The mission also cost $2,903 for civilian overtime and $5,910 for military salaries, although the military wages would have been paid regardless of the mission.

In the end, both the hunters and tourists got off the ice floe on their own but needed a lift by helicopter to Arctic Bay.

The Canadian Forces defended the large expense as the necessary cost of protecting Canada and Canadians.

“When human lives are at risk — although there is a dollar value attached to it — I’m not sure that a cost can really be calculated,” said Master Warrant Officer Greg Smit, a search and rescue advisor with the military’s Canadian Joint Operations Command.

“Canadians expect us to do this,” he said.

“When people are in distress in this country, we utilize our assets to find these people and bring them back to safety.” A handout photo of shelters used for "ice safari camp" by Arctic Kingdom for tours.

Immediately after the rescue, the tour director told the Post that the situation “was never an emergency” and his clients “were having dinner served to them and listening to presentations” while the military was mobilizing.

The tour was advertised as costing $10,900, plus $4,524 for return flights from Ottawa to Arctic Bay, based on double occupancy.

Master Warrant Officer Smit said the relative luxury of those being rescued is not part of the military’s calculus.

“Although lives may not have been hanging by a thread at that particular point, in the North or off the coast, things can change quickly,” he said.

“What the people were doing is a detail that doesn’t change the responsibility of the folks at the pointy end of it, those doing the rescue.”

Despite that, the flight crews seemed to be under the impression the victims were “a 20-man research / film crew” rather than tourists and their guides, according to a report written by a Search and Rescue team leader.

While a Hercules was refuelling for its return to base in Winnipeg, the crew were told that all 31 people on the ground had been safely brought to Arctic Bay airport. Their mission was over, their duty done.

National Post -

Crashed Canadian Coast Guard Ship AMUNDSEN helicopter found in 450m depth McClure Strait below sea ice

20140926 UPDATE:

Only one of the three men who died in the Arctic crash of a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter was wearing a full immersion suit, which was not completely zipped up, and only one victim had a life jacket on, CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge reported Wednesday.

Sources close to the crash investigation have helped CBC News piece together some of what happened on the helicopter's fateful mission.

The TSB has recovered the wreckage of the helicopter that crashed into the Arctic Ocean earlier this month. (Transportation Safety Board)

Crashed Arctic helicopter found

Marc Thibault, the commanding officer of the coast guard ship Amundsen, Daniel Dubé, the pilot of the helicopter, and Klaus Hochheim, an Arctic scientist affiliated with the University of Manitoba, died of hypothermia on Sept. 9 when their chopper crashed into the Arctic Ocean. The crash occurred in M'Clure Strait, about 600 kilometres west of Resolute, while the three men had been on an ice research flight.

Peter Mansbridge

CBC News chief correspondent

Peter Mansbridge has made frequent trips to Canada’s Arctic, reporting on the search for the Franklin Expedition, Arctic research and changes to the environment . The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Amundsen is one of several Coast Guard icebreakers he has been on, having toured its facilities, met its crew and flown in its helicopter.

All three men managed to get out of the chopper before it sank, but then the water, which was about 0 C, began taking its icy death grip.

Full immersion suits are designed to protect the wearer from cold water, but only if they are fully zipped up. Dubé’s body was found with the suit only partially zipped up. Pilots often fly with the suits partly open because they get warm.

Thibeault and Hochheim both had different suits on, but not the kind that would provide full protection against the icy waters.

David Barber, a veteran of Arctic research and a friend of Hochheim, recognizes the crew was alive for only a brief time in the water.

"The water’s far too cold and…you go through all the stages of hypothermia very rapidly with death following shortly thereafter because your internal organs all shut down," he said.
Additionally, two of the men were found in the water without life jackets, and while the third man did have one on it was not properly inflated. Coast guard policy is that life jackets must always be worn on helicopter flights over water.

The Transportation Safety Board released this image of the Amundsen's helicopter, which was discovered on the ocean floor. The wreckage was raised to the surface on Wednesday. (Transportation Safety Board)
Prior to the crash, the crew had been working about five kilometres from the Amundsen, and had radioed to the ship that they were returning. But the evidence, in addition to the survival suits and life-jackets, suggests whatever happened to the chopper occurred quickly:

Dubé had no time or was unable to send a final radio distress call.


Pictures of the aircraft taken more than 400 metres down on the sea floor show the chopper’s front section heavily damaged and the tail broken off.


There is said to be a debris field about 300 metres around the aircraft.


The helicopter had equipment that could have kept it afloat for hours, but pictures indicate that while the switch for the pop-up floats was activated, they were not deployed


The aircraft carried a life raft for emergencies, but there’s no evidence it was used.


The wreckage of the helicopter was raised to the surface on Wedne
sday. Crash investigators will now begin trying to determine why the chopper went down, but that could take a year or more, and it won’t be easy. The helicopter did not carry flight data recorders. While it did carry a fixed camera to record the ice probe operation, it is not clear if it was recording at the time things went terribly wrong.

It is extraordinary that the Amundsen apparently came upon 3 bodies in the water after sailing for 40 mins to 1 hour(?) to the last known location of the helicopter. Talk about finding needles in a haystack! Complete mechanical failure? It hardly seems likely. The MBB 105 is twin-engined. Was he flying so low that he had no time to autorotate nor broadcast a mayday? Yet apparently he had radioed that he was returning to the ship so one would presume he was at a reasonably high altitude. Was there much ice around? If he had been able to autorotate, surely he would have aimed for a landing on a floe. The 3 occupants all managed to unbuckle their seatbelts and evacuate, suggesting that the machine remained upright on the surface some time before sinking. That surface must have been something more or less solid, i.e. ice, because the pop-up floats were not inflated and if he'd landed in the water he'd have sunk immediately. Did the floe then give way and there was no nearby ice reachable by swimming?
So many questions, so few answers
- - - end of update - - -

The chopper that went down earlier this month in the M'Clure Strait in Arctic waters has been found. But now it has to be recovered from the depths.
Three men died in the crash, after the helicopter took off from the coast guard icebreaker the Amundsen two weeks ago. The helicopter never returned. When the Amundsen hurried to investigate, crew members found the bodies of the three men floating in the water, wearing their survival suits.
After the accident, the Amundsen returned to Resolute Bay, Nunavut, with the bodies. It later returned to the scene to recover the chopper from the frigid water.

Investigation continues

The Transportation Safety Board said a remote-operated vehicle found the helicopter on the ocean floor, in water about 450 metres deep.
The coast guard, ArcticNet and the TSB are working together to recover it. But they say ice and weather conditions are making that difficult.
"While the aim is to recover the helicopter as quickly as possible, ensuring the safety of the personnel and vessels involved in this operation is a first priority," the TSB said in a release. 
Amundsen helicopter
The TSB found the Amundsen's helicopter in roughly 450 metres of water. (Transportation Safety Board)

In addition to the Amundsen, the coast guard icebreaker Henry Larsen is also assisting with the operation. The former is operating the unmanned vehicle. The latter is in charge of clearing ice.
TSB lead investigator Jean-Marc Ledoux said the plan is to raise the chopper as soon as conditions allow.
"The ship has to be quite stabilized in order to make a good recovery," he said. "If there's too much ice around the ship they won't be able to lift up the wreckage through the ice, so they have to move the ice away in order to be able to lift up the wreckage."
He said he hopes the chopper will be recovered by the end of Wednesday.
Once that's done, the helicopter will be transported to a TSB lab to inspect "all types of components, engines, transmission, blades and the wreckage itself" to determine what happened, Ledoux said.
- - - snip - - -

File photo of a Eurocopter AS332. Photo credit: CHC Helicopters
File photo of a Eurocopter AS332. Photo credit: CHC Helicopters
Update 2: Police say there was a fourth person killed, BBC reports. The update said that three of the four bodies have been recovered. Police in Scotland have now confirmed 14 others have been rescued.
Update: BBC reports that the bodies of the 3 people missing following the crash have been found.
Three people are still missing after a Super Puma helicopter carrying passengers from a North Sea drilling rig ditched into the sea west of the Shetland Islands.
The helicopter was carrying 16 passengers and 2 crew when it went down at about 6:20 p.m. local time approximately two miles west of Sumburgh Airport, located on the southern tip of Shetland.
An update from the U.K.’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency said that the Shetland Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre was notified at 6.30 p.m. by the Air Rescue Coordination Centre that they had lost contact with the Super Puma helicopter traveling from the Borgsten Dolphin semi-submersible drilling rig to Sumburgh. The Borgsten Dolphin is operated by Total SA.
The update said that so far 15 people have been accounted for and 3 people are still missing.
At least three helicopters and two RNLI lifeboats are involved in the search, along with a ferry that was initially rerouted to the scene.
The U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it has been notified of the incident and has deployed a team to investigate.
The helicopter is operated by CHC. In a statement, the company confirmed that there “has been an incident involving one of our aircraft in the North Sea” and that “the appropriate authorities have been informed and the company’s Incident Management Team is being mobilised,” according to Sky News.
Sky News reports that the helicopter was a Eurocopter Super Puma AS332 L2.
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Danish motor vessel NORDIC ORION completes the Northwest Passage laden with 73,500 tons of coal

M/V NORDIC ORION in the Northwest Passage

Earlier this month, the ice-strengthened bulk carrier Nordic Orion was loaded with coal at a Vancouver terminal. From there, it headed to Finland via the Northwest Passage, undertaking a voyage that could make it the first commercial bulk carrier to traverse the route since the SS MANHATTAN broke through in 1969.

"Nordic Orion is out now, and the trip went well. The Northwest Passage is firmly defined with a start point in the Bering Strait's Arctic Circle and an end point in Davis Strait's Arctic Circle. The ship is across the eastern Arctic Circle sailing south now along the coast of Greenland where there may still be ice and icebergs., we have kept the pace we expected through the Northwest Passage, and therefore we have also kept us on schedule, "says managing director of Nordic Bulk Carriers, Christian Bonfils, Jyllands-Posten.

Built in 2011 in Japan.
225 meters long and classified as ice class 1A.
Can bring about 73,500 tons of coal on the voyage, which is about 15,000 tons more than an ordinary sailing through the low Panama Canal.

Source: Nordic Bulk Carriers

On the current trip, the Danish shipping company expects the ship would save $440,000 dollars in fuel on the trip, which is about 1,850 km shorter than via the Panama Canal. In addition, the Northwest Passage is deeper than the Panama Canal, allowing the freighter to carry 15,000 tons more coal.

Despite the apparent attractiveness characteristics of the Northwest Passage in relation to the Panama Canal, it is not yet decided whether Nordic Bulk Carriers will begin to use the route.

"We must speak with the Canadian Coast Guard and fix the window in time that we can sail the Passage each year," said Christian Bonfils.

The rest of the MV Nordic Orion's route will be south of Greenland and then across the North Atlantic to Europe.
Potent ship

Nordic Bulk Carriers has sent both the ship and crew through the Northwest Passage is of a different casting than normal. The people on board are used to sailing in ice and have ice knowledge. A Canadian ice pilot is aboard as standard practice. The tour has also been followed closely by the Canadian Coast Guard.

The ship MV Nordic Orion weighs 13,000 tons, of which about 3,000 tonnes are pure ice strengthening. The engine has 18,500 horsepower at an ordinary ship in the class 11,000 to 12,000 horsepower. All this has meant that the vessel has ice class 1A, which is the highest commercial grade of ice-strengthened ships.


- - - snip - - -

Second ever cargo crossing of Northwest Passage overflows with environmental dangers

In a week when the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change is supposed to unveil its much anticipated fifth assessment report – which is not expected to bear good news – the Danish-owned vessel Nordic Orion set sail to become the second cargo ship ever to use the storied Northwest Passage as a trade route.Magnus Borgen, Charles Digges, 25/09-2013

The last journey taken by a commercian freighter through the inhospitable, ice strewn minefield was in 1969 – and not without reason.

“The journey for the [Nordic Orion] poses an enormous risk to the environment and set a highly detrimental predicent,” said Sigurd Enge, Bellona’s senior advisor on Arctic affairs.

Meanwhile, a leaked draft of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) that will is expected to be presented in Stockholm on Friday, promises to offer the most definitive statement from the panel yet that climate change is man-made.

It also says that global warming is starting to affect extreme weather events, such as flooding, drought, heat waves and wildfires. It additionally warns of a potential rise in sea levels that, by century's end, would drown many coastal cities in their current state of preparedness – problems tied directly to pollution of the Arctic.

The Nordic Orion is en route from Vancouver, Canada to Pori, Finland and, by using the Northwest Passage, its owners claim they will shave 1000 nautical miles off the vessel’s journey.

Media reports indicate that the ship has now exited the Northwest Passage, but Bellona’s reaction to the vessel’s route is strongly negative.
Dangerous lack of rescue capabilities in Northwest Passage

“These waters are highly risky to operate in,” said Enge. “If such a ship wrecks in these waters , we have neither equipment nor emergency infrastructe to clean up or conduct rescue operations.”

As reported by Toronto’s daily newpaper, The Globe and Mail, Canda’s rescue infractructure is notoriously undereequpped.

“Canada’s Arctic search-and-rescue capabilities are desperately poor,” the paper said. [Canada’s] long-range helicopters are based in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Labrador: Each aircraft would take more than a day to fly the 2,500 kilometers to the Northwest Passage, stopping to refuel along the way.”

There are, additionally, absolutely no ports in a storm for ailing vessels sailing the Northwest Passage: “Canada lacks a single port along the Northwest Passage in which a vessel could seek refuge in the event of mechanical problems or a serious storm,” the paper said.

Enge confirmed the remarks saying, “The Northwest Passage is even more remote in terms of preparedness than are the Russians.”

Russia’s Northern Sea Route has 16 deepwater ports, where the Northwest Passage has none, he said.

Navigation in the Northwest passage is also next to impossible, John Falkingham, an expert with the Canadian Ice Service, told the Nunatsiaq News, based in Canada’s Northernmost Nunavut territory, in an interview last month.

Falkingham told the paper that inadequate charts are the “single biggest issue in the Arctic,” saying only one-tenth of Canada’s Arctic waters are charted to modern standards.
Accidents can – and have – happened

The Globe and Mail also noted there were major concerns about the seaworthiness of the Nordic Orion in the ice conditions of the Northwest Passage.

“Although the Nordic Orion is ice-strengthened, Arctic storms, shallow waters and icebergs still pose risks. Small chunks of icebergs called “growlers” are extremely hard, float low in the water, and are difficult to spot,” reported the paper, and went on to detail a recent shipwreck caused by such low floating icebergs.

“In 2007, the ice-strengthened MS Explorer sank during an Antarctic voyage after striking a growler,” said the paper. It also added that ice coagulation on the top portion of vessels sailing Arctic waters could upend them.

“Then there is “icing,” which occurs when ocean spray freezes onto the superstructure of a ship, causing it to become top-heavy and capsize,” said the paper.
Ice conditions in Northwest Passage nearly unpredictable

Enge added that predicting ice conditions in the Northwest passage is all but impossible, where the Northern Sea Route offers at least some foresight.

“The fact that the Northwest Passage is replete with Islands, fjords and straits makes it impossible to have any forehand knowledge of the quickly-shifting ice conditions,” he said. “Along the Northern Sea Route you have a lot of clear water, so ice conditions are easier to predict.”

Bronx cheer for the Candian government

Enge says the news of the Nordic Orion shows that Canadian authorities are taking a page from Russia’s book on irresponsible management of Arctic waters and rewritting it to be even worse.

“Canada's international reputation as a responsible Arctic nation is at stake,” he said. “Even more regretable is the fact that Canada’s current chairmanship of the Arctic Council (the group uniting all nations with an Arctic border) provides a bad example for other Arctic countries on how to safely manage ice and environmental conditions.”

While some have argued that shorter ship voyages at sea along routes like the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route along Siberia’s northern coast produce an overall reduction in the carbon footprint from shipping, Enge flatly opposes that view.

“Emissions of soot from heavy oil [that powers ship] in the Arctic climate eliminates the benefits of choosing a shorter route,” Enge said. “Problems of soot in Arctic waters have a proven effect on the accelerated melting [the Polar Icecap]. Chosing shorter routes is therefore solely for profit at the expense of the environment and the climate. This form of risk transfer is the last thing the Arctic needs now.”
73,000 tons of metallurgical coal on the short route

The Nordic Orion was hauling 73,000 tons of metallurgical coal, used as an additive in manufacturing steel. The ship, because it was able to avoid the Panama Canal, was able to load 13,000 more tons of the cargo. Ruuki Metals of Finland is awaiting the delivery.

The Nordic Orion is a single hull ice class vessel certified to sail in icy waters. Its runs on heavy feul oil stored in bunker tanks in the hull, with only hull plates as a barrier to between the fuel and water outside.

The boat has a single hull with ice class , and is thus certified to go in icy waters. The ship runs on heavy fuel oil stored in the bunker tanks in the hull with only hull plates as a barrier between the oil and water outside.

With this voyage, the Nordic Orion is writing itself into the history books with a dirty pen. “The [ship’s owners] first considered trying to navigate the Northeast Passage, but finnaly chose the Northwest Passage,” said Enge who has followed the Nordic Orion’spossible itineraries.

The Nordic Orion is not the first cargo vessel that has attempted to ford the Northwest Passage. The oil tanker SS Manhattanconducted a test voyage in 1969 through the ice minefield to test the feasibilit of delivering oil between Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the US East Coast.

Retrofitted with an icebreaking bow for the journey, the vessel traversed the Northwest Passage with several changes of course for unforseen ice conditions. In Prudhoe Bay, it loaded one single symbolic barrel of crude and returned to the US East Coast under the escort of a Canadian coastguard icebreakers.

As a result of the journey’s difficulties, big oil reasoned that it would be easier to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez via the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.

Follow the journey of the Nordic Orion on
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20131002 UPDATE:
Groundbreaking northern voyage almost foundered over insurance


VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Oct. 02 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

When the bulk carrier Nordic Orion arrived in Vancouver last month to take on a load of coal, plans called for the ship to sail through the Panama Canal to Finland. But, faced with a chance to catch the tail end of the Northwest Passage shipping season, the vessel’s owners decided to take that historic route instead.

There was one potential snag – getting insurance for the unprecedented voyage.

“Imagine you’re sitting in my shoes and someone comes to you and says, ‘Hey, we’re going to put a ship through the Northwest Passage,’” Andrew Teasdale, a marine surveyor with multinational insurer RSA Group, said Tuesday in an interview. “Your immediate response would be, ‘Well, that’s incredible – that’s never been done before – do I just reject it, or do I make some inquiries and see what I can do?’”

RSA wound up underwriting the voyage of the Nordic Orion, a 225-metre, ice-strengthened vessel that left Vancouver on Sept. 6 and arrived at its destination in Pori, Finland, on Sept. 29. It was the first commerical bulk carrier to sail through the passage.

Before reaching an agreement, RSA flew a Canadian ice pilot to Denmark to review the route with the ship’s owners, Nordic Bulk Carriers, and also sent Mr. Teasdale along to assess the company’s management and expertise. Talks covered such issues as expected ice coverage, whale breeding and migration grounds and whether channels were deep enough to prevent the ship from running aground.

RSA provided hull coverage, which insures the physical ship. Other companies provided protection and indemnity insurance, which is commonly referred to as P&I and covers liability in case the ship’s owner is sued in the event of, for example, a spill of fuel or cargo.

Mr. Teasdale would not discuss financial details, saying only that the price was in line with a nearly new, ice-strengthened ship worth an estimated $80-million and featured a premium.

Insurance brokers said it could cost $100,000 or more to insure a ship in the class and size of Nordic Orion, and that traveling through the Northwest Passage could involve an additional premium of up to 30 per cent. RSA insured the passage on an “unescorted” basis, although the Nordic Orion was accompanied by the Louis S. St. Laurent, a Coast Guard icebreaker.

Transport Canada monitored the sailing and required the ship to check in daily with Nordreg, a Coast Guard agency, while it was in the Northwest Passage. The ship sailed out of the passage on Sept. 24 and arrived at its destination about a week later.

Nordic Bulk has said it was able to save about $80,000 in fuel costs by taking the passage instead of going through the Panama Canal. The route is about 1,000 nautical miles shorter and is about four or five days shorter; the ship was also able to carry about 25 per cent more coal than it would have been able to had it travelled through the more shallow Panama Canal.

RSA had safety concerns about the route, which has drawn attention as a potential commercial shipping route as ice cover decreased in recent years. But in investigating the route, RSA determined that there were spots for a ship to take shelter and that it was relatively accessible by helicopter, compared with, say, the open Pacific.

“It was something that really did concern us, but when you’re going to do something like this, your ship is of the highest standard and is chock-full of spares should anything go wrong,” Mr. Teasdale said.

RSA had previously insured Nordic Bulk vessels on the Northern Sea Route, which goes along the northern coast of Russia, so it knew the company had experience and expertise in Arctic routes.

But the biggest factor in the sailing might have been the timing of the Nordic Orion’s arrival in Vancouver. Had it been a week or two later, the passage might have had more ice on it and the short window might have closed.

“You had exactly the right point in the season and the right ship at the right time to let people push the ‘go’ button,” Mr. Teasdale said.