By Michael A. Moore
Capt. Duke Snider is a man on a mission – he wants to see the use of properly trained and certified ice navigators required on all ships that venture into ice-infested Arctic and Antarctic waters, plus a realistic set of standards and procedures for the training and certification of those ice navigators as part of the Polar Code. “The way things are now, anyone can call himself an ice-master, pilot or navigator,” said Capt. Snider, who is on the Nautical Institute’s delegation to the IMO Polar Code working group. “You don’t even need to be current in Arctic or Antarctic ice. Your ice experience could be in the Baltic or Caspian, which would be very different from what you encounter in the polar regions.”
Capt. Snider was referring to the sinking of the M/V Explorer in Antarctic waters in 2007. Explorer was built with a double, ice-hardened hull with Ice Class 1C. It hit ice near the South Shetland Islands at about 3:30 p.m. local time and sank, but its 100 passengers and crew of 54 were successfully evacuated into lifeboats. They were later picked up by the research vessel M/V National Geographic Endeavour.
The Liberian government’s accident report on the sinking of Explorer specifically faults the Master. “The decision by the Master to enter to enter the ice field based on his knowledge and information was the primary reason why it became a casualty. He was under the mistaken impression that he was encountering first-year ice when in fact, as the Chilean Navy Report indicated, the ice was much harder land ice. Explorer’s Master was very experienced in Baltic waters but unfamiliar with the type of ice he encountered in Antarctic waters.”
Capt. Snider cites another example of the need for uniform, reality-based requirements for the use of properly trained and certified ice navigators, especially for cruise ships that want to let their passengers feel the excitement of sailing close to the ice. “A very large non-ice-classed cruise ship sailed into a bay in Greenland for sightseeing after making a risk assessment,” said Capt. Snider. “Then luck and the tide turned against the ship, and the bay filled with ice. The vessel was not ice-classed and did not have an ice navigator aboard. It found itself surrounded by bergy bits and growlers and was lucky to make it safely out of the bay. Risk assessment is only as good as the individual’s knowledge making the assessment.”
Capt. Snider will be pressing his case for the need for the presence of properly trained and certified ice navigators in a presentation at the meeting of the Arctic Circle in Reykjavik, Iceland on November 1. “Keep in mind that Nunavik, the best and most advanced commercial icebreaker in the world, not only had the most ice-experienced Master on board, it also had an Arctic-experienced and qualified ice navigator,” said Capt. Snider.
“For ships that can encounter ice, the presence of a properly trained and certified ice navigator should be required under the Polar Code,” he said. However, he continued, “where there is no ice at either pole, whether because of seasonal variation or latitude, Ice Navigators need not be necessary. An example is the Red Dog mine in Alaska. The mine’s location in summer is totally ice free but well within the geographic limits of the present Polar Code. We are also trying to ensure that the Polar Code makes allowances for ships operating in polar regions where no ice is encountered.”