By Brian Dunn

Coordinating the aims of the various stakeholders in Arctic development is a daunting task which needs to be clarified, while competition will likely be centred around sovereignty issues such as the disputed limits of the Continental shelf and economic issues. The remarks were made by Mike Emerson, Director, Marine Transportation Systems, United States Coast Guard (USCG) during the 14th Arctic Shipping Summit in February in Montreal. Global shipping, especially in the Arctic, is not on the U.S.’ radar and there needs to be a business case made, such as a return on investment, to attract American investment in the region, he added.

U.S. interest in the Arctic is based on sovereignty, safety, national security and stewardship. “If we want to add ships to the region, we need to make a case for a deepwater port. We have to show it’s worth the trouble. How to build icebreakers and escorts is something we can learn from Russia and China. China is handing out money (through its Belt and Road Initiative), but there will be a cost associated with it.” USCG expects to announce the awarding of a $350 million contract for three Polar Security Cutters by June to replace current Polar Class vessels with delivery of the first three of six planned vessels in 2023.

In addition to the five Arctic coastal states (Norway, Denmark, Russia, the U.S. and Canada), there are other actors in the region like China that must play a part in search and rescue (SAR) initiatives if they want to be part of the region’s economic development, suggested Thomas Winkler, Denmark’s Ambassador to Canada. Denmark has four major strategic objectives for the region, namely a peaceful, secure and safe Arctic, self-sustaining growth and development, respecting the Arctic’s vulnerable climate, environment and nature and close cooperation with its international partners. “These are challenges beyond the scope of the Arctic Council. Do we currently coordinate infrastructure investments together? No. Those have to be driven by business and the various states and the key role of business is to pressure states through such means as the Arctic Economic Council,” said Mr. Winkler.

Any Arctic development must include indigenous communities through the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing the 160,000 Inuit people living in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia, said Ivana Kubat, Director of Research and Development, National Research Council Canada. A network of fibre optic infrastructure is being installed in Greenland that could be extended to the Canadian Arctic where internet connection are poor or non-existent, she suggested, while noting Canada is losing experienced captains operating in the Arctic due to retirement.

Asked if there are any discussions among member states about not developing the Arctic, Mr. Winkler pointed out that Russia is dependent on Arctic oil and gas exploration, but  needs new infrastructure to carry it out. An LNG port is currently under construction at the Port of Sabetta in northwest Siberia on the Yamal peninsula which holds Russia’s largest natural gas reserves. And he wondered if the Chinese and Koreans would move in if the moratorium on Arctic fishing was relaxed.

A new Arctic Region to be built in partnership with indigenous and northern partners was announced on Oct. 24, 2018, by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada-Canadian Coast Guard. It aims to provide economic opportunities for northerners by reducing employment barriers and filling positions locally, among other objectives. The partnership includes the Inuit Marine Monitoring Program that will collect data on vessel activities in Arctic coastal areas during the shipping season by purchasing AIS data from existing resources in remote locations.

As part of the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan announced in 2016, a Community Boats Program will be established in the region to support the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a SAR organization of over 4,000 volunteers and 1,100 vessels from coast to coast to coast. Other projects include pilot initiatives to improve service delivery in the Arctic, advance northern low impact shipping corridors, development of joint incident response plans with northern partners and ongoing recruitment for positions in the Arctic.

To operate successfully in a hostile environment such as the Arctic, special consideration must be given for insurance purposes to determine whether a vessel is ice-classed or requires extra coverage by P&I Clubs or H&M (hull and machinery) underwriters. “Ship operators must ensure the vessel complies with and pre-approved by P&I coverage,” said Charles Anderson, Senior Vice-President, Skuld. While P&I covers worldwide trading, trading through the Arctic poses a “risk alteration” and must be approved by the Club. Additional H&M coverage must also be in place before starting an Arctic voyage, added Mr. Anderson. Potential impact on coverage includes a vessel’s classification and certification, drilling and specialist operations and knowingly sending an unseaworthy vessel to sea.

Ice build-up from atmospheric conditions and sea spray is the most challenging aspect of arctic operations which changes the centre of gravity and could potentially capsize a ship, according to Rune Engebø, Project Engineer, Polarkonsult, a Norwegian designer of vessels and drilling rigs operating in the Arctic. In terms of equipment, ice can block ventilation outlets, fire dampers and pressure relief valves and damage bearings and rubber hoses. As for the work environment, operations can be impeded by heavy gloves and clothing, slippery surfaces and falling ice as well as seasonal affective disorder due to long polar nights.

Communications can also be impacted from icing on antennas that can cause signal degradation, while the Inmarsat global satellite system is unreliable above the 80th parallel, Mr. Engebø, noted.

IMO Polar Code Phase 2 aims to mitigate risks by taking a more structural approach to ice operations in terms of design, construction, operational, training and SAR requirements. It applies to all SOLAS ships and new ships as of January 1, 2017.

To mitigate icing conditions, a vessel can be winterized through active and passive protection, Mr. Engebø pointed out. Active protection includes keeping de-icing equipment on all the time along with heat and steam radiation. Passive protection involves non-skid safety coating and covering or shielding exposed areas. “You still need manual labour with mallets to break ice buildup,” added Mr. Engebø. “Operational measures include additional reserves of fuel and food, a safe haven onboard and sufficient medical supplies.”

SAR operations in the Arctic will likely increase as ice-free days will increase from the current 70 days to 125 days by 2050, according to Dimitrios Dalaklis, Associate Professor, World Maritime University, Malmö, Sweden. This will open the region to increased Arctic tourism, but cruise ships like the 1,000 passenger Crystal Serenity will be replaced by ice-capable yachts accommodating 100-200 passengers.

“While this puts less pressure on North American SAR services from places like Trenton and Juneau, it is far below where SAR should be. By comparison, Russia has dedicated $30 million to establish 10 northern SAR outposts. It is also the only country that has nuclear-powered icebreakers that operate on very lengthy refuelling cycles. The National Shipbuilding Strategy should aim to remedy the lack of resources in Canada’s north.”

Some type of Canada-U.S. cooperation is needed in the Northwest Passage similar to that on the St. Lawrence Seaway, according to John Higginbotham, Head of Arctic Program, Carleton University. “Between the Yukon and Northwest Territories, we should develop our own shipping channel as Russia increases its presence in the area. There are lots of opportunities to do more.”

As part of Transportation 2030, a strategic initiative on the future of transportation in Canada, there are plans to build world class marine corridors that are competitive, safe, and environmentally sustainable to enhance the northern transportation infrastructure. This will be done with territorial governments and communities to address their basic transportation infrastructure needs and adapt it a changing environment, noted Mr. Higginbotham.

Ice melt information is extremely important for Arctic shipping and under Polar Code chapter 11, voyage planning must take into account the potential dangers of the presence of ice, said Keld Qvistgaard, Head of Ice Services, Danish Meteorological Institute. Chapter 11 also stipulates a captain planning a route through polar waters must consider current information on the extent and type of ice and icebergs along the intended route, as well as statistical information on ice and temperatures from previous years. A checklist before departure for Arctic waters must take into account whether the vessel is winterized and has operational limitations. Is the crew trained for winter operations and is the captain relying on standard ice services or tailored ice services? “Will the future role of an ice analyst be driven by user need, technology, cost savings or by regulations,” Mr. Qvistgaard asked.

Satellite information is the most important tool to collect ice data and Canada plans to launch three more satellites in May for ice coverage, noted Tom Zagon, Physical Scientist Specialist, Canadian Ice Service. “Does less ice mean fewer problems? No, because there’s an increase in icebergs. And in 2011, there was zero ice in the Northwest Passage, but ice was up significantly in 2018 which completely threw off cruise ship schedules. Ice charts go back to 1968 which can be studied to get an idea of ice conditions on a certain date over the years. There is less ice now, but we have had variability throughout the years.”