Grounded Passenger Vessel Shows Arctic Travel Hazards

3 mins read  Sealuminati TeamJune 17, 2021

The incident of the passenger ship Akademik Ioffe running aground in the Canadian Arctic indicates travel hazards in the area. It was back on August 24, 2018, when the passenger ship Akademik Ioffe ran aground in the Canadian Arctic. The vessel was navigating through a distant location that none of the crew had visited previously and that had not been mapped according to modern hydrographic standards. While no one was hurt and all 163 people on board were saved, the vessel's hull incurred significant damage. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's (TSB) inquiry discovered a number of safety issues and also other concerns that must be resolved.

The vessel diverted from its initial voyage plan due to worries about the effects of weather on the scheduled passenger excursion. The master relied on a Canadian chart when developing a new trip plan to accommodate this, but was unaware that it had only incomplete bathymetric data, and consequently took no additional efforts to limit the risks of navigating in this area.

Meanwhile, the low-water depth aural alerts on both echo sounders had been switched off, as they were considered a nuisance. The Officer of the Watch was multitasking just prior to the grounding, while the helmsman was directing the vessel. Without any additional personnel monitoring the situation or operating navigation equipment, the under-keel water depth fell steadily. The vessel ran aground on an undiscovered shoal, precluding the use of evasive measures.

With over 85% of Canadian Arctic seas lacking proper hydrographic data, the probability of a similar incident involving passenger vessels engaged in adventure tourism is considerable. When mishaps do occur, the region's cold, vast, and thinly populated nature adds to the dangers of passenger survival. This is exacerbated by a deficiency in the area's search and recovery operation.

Additional safeguards are required in light of such risks—and with passenger ship traffic in the Arctic increases. Therefore, the TSB released recommendation M21-01, encouraging Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and the Oceans to create and execute "compulsory risk-mitigation procedures for all passenger's vessels" operated in these areas.

Although the suggestion is not mandatory, the Board emphasized possible steps such as conducting more thorough inspections of vessels entering the Arctic or perhaps preventing vessels from transiting Arctic seas that have not been sufficiently assessed. Additionally, the report recommends mandating the carriage of additional navigational aids, requiring the employment of supernumerary navigational experts, and guaranteeing that other vessels are always nearby.

Regardless of the actions taken, the TSB report makes one thing very clear: more needs to be done to limit hazards, improve passenger safety, and safeguard the Arctic's fragile and vulnerable ecology.