Sunday, September 12, 2010

GREY GOOSE offers to take navigation depth soundings and side scan sonar data during Arctic Expedition 2011 to improve Arctic navigation safety

Want sovereignty in the North? Then chart the Arctic Ocean 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands on an ice floe as he talks with military officials during his recent tour of the Arctic.   (Sean Kilpatrick / CP)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands on an ice floe as he talks with military officials during his recent tour of the Arctic. (Sean Kilpatrick / CP)The Clipper Adventurer  ran aground  in the Arctic  in August. (CP)
The Clipper Adventurer ran aground in the Arctic in August. (CP)

On Aug. 27, the cruise ship Clipper Adventurer ran up on an uncharted rock in the Northwest Passage, about 55 nautical miles from Kugluktuk. Fortunately the weather was fine, visibility good, and the Canadian icebreaker Amundsen managed within two days to arrive at the stranded ship and rescue its 100-plus passengers.
A week later, the Nanny, an oil tanker owned and operated by a company from Newfoundland and Labrador, ran aground in the Simpson Strait. Salvage crews are working against the clock to refloat both these vessels.
We have a special interest in the Clipper Adventurer, having sailed on her last summer into the high Arctic and through the Northwest Passage. Her captain and officers competently guided their ice- capable vessel through very difficult conditions.
We had not imagined that charts for the open waterways in the Arctic could not be trusted. Of course, we all knew that when entering fjords or narrow passages between islands or coves, the ship had to feel its way in "dead slow." But the fact that only one-tenth of Arctic waters are charted to modern standards is a scourge on Canadian claims to sovereignty over the Arctic.
While we agree with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada’s claim to sovereignty over the Arctic and its waters and shipways is crucial, we disagree with his sabre-rattling ways of asserting that claim. Control of charts and charting information is certainly more important than shows of military might.
In Capt. Cook’s time, nations charted previously uncharted waters, for example around Van Diemen’s Land, Australia. They kept these charts secret, often publishing and distributing false charts to other nations. Only ships of the imperial nations were granted access to these early charts.
Perhaps Canada could engage in an intensive exercise to chart the Arctic waters it lays claim to, and then restrict access to these accurate charts through means such as informatized coding granted only to authorized vessels. Our own electronic charting program, MaxSea, utilizes just such restricted access coding.
If Canada were really serious about its stewardship of Arctic waters, it would establish search and rescue bases and environmental surveillance facilities in the north, in case of emergencies like that which befell the Clipper Adventurer.
Prof. Michael Byers of UBC argues that Canada escaped by the skin of its teeth this time. Had the weather been inclement, the outcome of this grounding might have been far from benign. Last year when we were sailing these waters, a gale blew up. It kicked up huge waves and froze splashing water onto every surface. Imagine a ship breaking on rocks in such seas — and then attempting to transfer over 100 passengers to a rescue ship 48 hours later in freezing conditions.
Provision of accurate charting, environmental security, and search and rescue services in the Arctic would go a long way to justifying Canadian claims of sovereignty in the area.
According to John Falkingham, a sea ice consultant, at the current rate of charting — "the single biggest issue in the Arctic" — it would take the Canadian Hydrographic Service 300 years to complete accurate charting of the Arctic. Acceleration of this pace would be costly, as would establishing search and rescue bases. But the cost would be much less than the billions of dollars we are spending on fighter jets and other military ventures designed to protect national claims to the North.
Prime Minister Harper’s sabre rattling suggests scenarios verging on the absurd. Denmark, Russia and the U.S. currently do not accept Canada’s claims to sovereignty over the Arctic and its waters.
We surely would be fools to launch our fighter jets against such opponents, as Stephen Harper well knows. This is not how the question of jurisdiction over these waters will be solved.
What if Canada were to stand up and offer to be an environmentally conscientious guardian of these waters as well as to monitor and provide security to vessels approved for navigation in them? Who else is in a position to be able to do that?
While we applaud Prime Minister Harper’s promise of an Arctic Research Centre in Cambridge Bay, we are skeptical, given the long range time-table, that it is anything more than pie in the sky.
Charting programs and search and rescue facilities in the Arctic would be a boon to inhabitants. Who better than the Inuit, who have survived, charted and rescued in these areas for centuries, to be employed in such facilities?
Sadly, today, even those Inuit students who excel in schools in places like Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Resolute, and Grise Fjord, often fall prey to depression, drug use, even suicide, because there is nothing for them to do at home after their educations. Harper’s government recently apologized to Inuit who were resettled under false pretences in the 1960s at Resolute and Grise Fjord, precisely to reinforce Canada’s claims to sovereignty over the far north.
To establish environmental monitoring and Search and Rescue facilities in these communities would help to provide meaningful employment and security to their citizens.
It would also establish a convincing reason for other nations to accede to Canadian jurisdiction over these northern waters. Sort of like killing two birds with one rock — hopefully a charted one.
Karin Cope and Marike Finlay wrote three articles last year on their voyage in the Arctic aboard the Clipper Adventurer.

No comments:

Post a Comment