By Julie Gedeon

Denmark has completed a detailed risk assessment to protect the environment along Greenland’s 14,000 kilometres of coastlines. While shipping activity is still minimal, it is expected to increase with less ice cover and heightening interest in Greenland’s mineral resources, as well as tourism.

iceberg“We have tried to establish a first line of defence with quality ships, wise itinerary planning, skilled pilots, responsible crews and, of course, responsible ship owners and charter operators,” said Per Sønderstrup, Head of Centre at the Danish Maritime Authority, who presented the risk assessment to participants at the 5th Annual Arctic Shipping North America Conference in Montreal.

Denmark has gone a step further than other countries by looking at the real and potential impacts of its sustainable development strategy for Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland through 2020. The strategy takes into account not only the employment opportunities and improved social welfare for Greenland’s 56,000 residents, for example, but the need to protect the island’s environment and local culture. “We’re talking about sustainable actions,” Mr. Sønderstrup emphasized.

The plan looks at the potential impact of every current and intended activity. For instance, while Greenland has a vast supply of the world’s oil and gas, it’s been recognized that a greater number of ice-class ships are required to safely conduct year-round operations in some areas.

New mining projects are expected to generate considerable wealth relatively quickly, but these projects will require substantial infrastructure. “There will be significant demand to supply various industries and much of this will be transported by ships,” Mr. Sønderstrup noted.

Among of the numerous projects currently being environmentally assessed is one that would involve extraction of a billion tonnes of iron ore. This project would require up to 3,000 people during its construction phase, and another 750 to operate the mine and ancillary facilities. The project would require 10 ships per month to deliver the extracted ore.

“One of the main challenges is to establish critical mass in terms of infrastructure for these various projects,” Mr. Sønderstrup said. “Otherwise, it’ll be expensive to start with nothing for each project.”

The first line of defence in Denmark’s sustainable development plan looks at each activity to determine the nature and extent of its associated risks. “We’ve highlighted the need for improvements in maritime infrastructure, charting and weather forecasting in yellow,” Mr. Sønderstrup explained. “Rescue capabilities are underlined in red.”

For the cruise industry, the risk assessment is not only about making sure that proper insurance is in place, but having cruise operators file itineraries well ahead of time, for example, so that it is known when and where tourists will arrive, and how their presence may affect a community or wilderness area. The information can be used to prepare local residents in offering timely commercial services while at the same time safeguarding both people and the environment.

As accidents are bound to happen, Mr. Sønderstrup emphasized the need to prepare for the consequences. Navigational and onboard competence has been identified as a red zone. “It will be difficult to maintain a critical mass of competent people as new shipping activities are being introduced and many newcomers will have to learn from the people who are out there working already,” Mr. Sønderstrup explained.

Investments in new enterprises must be accompanied by the funds to mitigate risks through adequate and accessible emergency rescue capabilities, Mr. Sønderstrup said. He also emphasized the need for cruise lines to clear their itineraries with authorities beforehand to make sure the desired route is deemed safe.

Mr. Sønderstrup praised the Arctic hub-and-spoke model to utilize existing Arctic infrastructure and community resources over larger expanses in a supply-chain method. “I think it’s a good idea because ice-class ships are not sufficiently fuel-efficient for all the places where they’re intended to be operated,” he said.