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Arctic Shipping Lanes Open as Polar Ice Retreats

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Arctic shipping lanes to open as polar ice bids a retreat
Rapid arctic climate change is set to open the northern seas for a major expansion in oil transportation and exploration
24 May 2005
Lloyd's List

FOR ALL the controversy surrounding the science of global warming, the shipping industry can be sure of the fact that the retreat of the polar ice cap means commercial Arctic sea lanes will be a reality by 2050.

Centuries of romance surrounding the icy fate of explorers, such as Martin Frobisher, Wilhelm Barents or John Franklin, and their search for a northern passage over the next few decades will melt into reality.

Arctic climate researchers with extensive recent field work report that change from the later half of the 20th century has been unprecedented.

Experts from the US Arctic Research Commission in Alaska to organisations such as Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research agree there is no evidence this process is going to let up.

This July, the science will be published in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment following approval in November by international forum the Arctic Council in Reykjavik.

“The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth”, emphasises US Arctic Research Commission deputy executive director Dr Lawson Brigham. “Each of the five global climate models used offer a continuous decline in Arctic sea ice cover throughout the 21st century. The observed retreat of Arctic sea ice is a real phenomenon.”

The importance of these findings to the industry was in evidence recently at a Lloyd’s List Arctic conference that drew top figures from across shipping.

An Arctic marine strategic plan, lead by Iceland and Canada through the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group, has set down an initial map of the risks posed by shipping and the energy industry for the region’s environment and people.

The Reykjavik summit also established a full-scale Arctic marine shipping assessment, with Canada, Finland and the US at the helm, over the next three years.

Even the staunchest sports utility vehicle enthusiast can no longer dispute the steady decrease in polar ice cover, even if explanations how and why are hotly disputed.

The paradox for shipping is that this dramatic sea change — viewed by others as a global catastrophe — holds out huge business opportunities.

And the driving force for this will be oil and gas transportation through the Russian northern seas, and to a lesser extent through the North American Arctic, and demand for more of the very fossil fuels behind the ice’s steady retreat.

By the mid-century a wider expanse of open water in the Arctic during the summer will offer shipping seasonal trade lanes, as accumulated multi-layer ice in the central Arctic decreases and sea ice thins around the ocean.

An ice-free summer Arctic Ocean by 2050, with multi-year ice in the sea disappearing, is one likelihood, with remaining sea ice in summer by 2100 retreating further away from most Arctic coasts.

Other projections for the end of the century calculate a 25% probability of unimpeded access along the Northern Sea Route for almost 180 days of the year.

“There are many variables, but it is clear that warming in the Arctic is occurring”, adds US Arctic Research Commission chair George B Newton. “More and more of the Arctic will become ice free each year and will be that way for longer periods of time.

“Routine Arctic shipping will be possible in about three decades, limited to shorter voyages with intercontinental transit later.”

Effected areas include the Russian Littoral, the Canadian archipelago, the Lincoln Sea north of Greenland and off the Alaskan north slope, all of which are shallow water or continental shelf areas where first year ice forms.

The latest observational data suggests a 3% decrease per decade in sea ice, with perennial pack ice diminishing by 7% every ten years and ice thickness reductions reported between 14% to 32% over the time span.

“This has great significance for Arctic marine shipping since multi-year ice would essentially disappear, with all the next winter’s sea ice first-year”, adds Dr Brigham.

“Global climate models to the end of the century suggest increased marine access and an extended season of navigation in nearly all Arctic regional seas.”

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research meteorologist Dr Jan Lieser, who has participated in three Arctic expeditions on the German RV Polarstern, points out that there has been a steady retreat in sea ice cover since 1978, with a record ice loss in September 2002.

Scientific analysis of the Canadian Arctic Northwest Passage has not been clear-cut, with inter-annual variability of observed sea ice in the region.

However, observation of Russia’s northern sea route from the Kara Gate to the Bering Strait shows a lengthening season for shipping through the century. With ice remaining on the tip of Severnaya Zemlaya, ACIA research suggests there will be a reliance on a transit route through Vilkitskii Strait between the seas of Kara and Laptev, rather than further north in the open Arctic Ocean.

And, amid all the talk of a doomsday in the cryosphere, Arctic experts are also at pains to stress that research indicates that winter Arctic sea ice will undergo only a modest decrease in coming years.

“There will always be an ice covered Arctic Ocean in winter, although the ice may be thinner and contain less multi-year ice”, adds Dr Brigham.

The ACIA research has also led to the development of an ice atlas of the future, which will offer a strategic, long range view of the possible shape over coming decades of sea ice and marine access in the Arctic basin.

“Sea-going interests will look to the polar routes as a way to reduce costs”, observes Mr Newton. “Transit time and distance savings of nearly 40% can be anticipated using either Russian or Canadian routes.”

One major concern for shipping, apart from the economics of commercial Arctic exploitation, will be safety, with increased oil production and shipping raising the spectre of oil spillage.

“With easier access and increased shipping, and on and offshore exploitation of fuel resources, the concern for an oil spill in high latitude, ice-infested waters becomes very real”, warns Mr Newton.

“It is an event the world is ill prepared to face”.

With 982 spills of at least 10,000 gallons since 1960 off high traffic areas, such as the English Channel and Florida and Malacca Straits, Mr Newton argues that an accident at some point statistically is not unlikely.

“One must assume that a significant oil spill will occur some day in the Arctic Ocean sea ice”, he warns.

The environmental impact of increased oil shipments in the region is an important aspect of a three-year EC-backed research programme into the development of a marine transportation network in Russia’s northern sea routes. Arctic Operational Platform started in 2002 and has counted 22 participants from seven countries, including Russia, Finland, Norway, Germany and Great Britain.

ARCOP figures project a twelvefold growth of export volume by the end of the decade to 102.9m tonnes of crude from northern Russian ports from 8.1m tonnes in 2003, with a peak estimate of around 151.m tonnes.

Big projects include the Shtokman gas project in the Barents, and the inshore terminal at Varandey in the Pechora Sea, as well as the Prirazlomnoye offshore field.

Another Pechora Sea project at Indiga is set to yield 50m by 2010 for Transneft, and is an alternative to Lukoil’s proposed development of Varandey, which already pumps 400,000 tonnes of oil and could yield 20m at full pelt or 12m projected for 2010.

Lukoil’s joint development of Severodvinsk with Taftnet is expected to offer 10m tonnes by the end of the decade and 15m at its peak.

Tambeyneftegaz’s plans for Tambey potentially tripling from 10m tonnes at the end of the decade.

Rosneft has its hand in three projects, with exports in 2010 via the more easterly Dikson development up to 10m and via Arkhangelsk more than doubling to 4.2m with a potential for 7m tonnes. The offshore Prirazlomnoye field is inked for 5.9m tonnes by the end of the decade going to perhaps 7m tonnes.

“Russia is the biggest supplier of oil and gas to Europe and Europe is the biggest user of Russian oil and gas”, explains project co-ordinator Kimmo Juurmaa of Aker Finnyards.

“For the participating European and Russian industries, this project gives ideas of how to develop their products.”

The project focused on an oil transportation scenario from Varandey to Rotterdam, with the development of the south-east part of the Barents considered a realistic first step in the development of the region.

Taking a conservative hypothetical transport volume of 328,000 barrels per day or 16m tonnes per year, the project has also presumed $15 per tonne for the Varandey-Rotterdam route.

The shipping analysis focuses on six areas of concern ranging from ice and navigational information to legal and cross border issues.

The big stumbling block for many investors has been the legal status of the northern sea routes, with the confused state of ice classification rules and the cost of insurance.

For now shipping has to assess the economics and feasibility of an Arctic transportation system, with suitable tanker sizes and corresponding icebreaking alternative.

With shallow coastlines and approaches requiring offshore loading, specially-designed terminals and sub-sea pipelines, along with testing conditions for manpower and machinery, Arctic projects will be a huge operational challenge.

And it is these issues that the shipping industry will have to assess over the next decade if commercial sea lanes are to be a reality in 2050.
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State to back Arctic shuttle study
By TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER
3 June 2005

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Marine transportation in the Arctic Ocean could become a reality in the next few decades as climate change thins Arctic sea ice, allowing icebreaker ships to plow through, scientists say.

Now Adak, a fishing town of about 120 on the far eastern tip of the Aleutian Islands, is set to begin plowing through the political and logistical waters of establishing the route.

This year's state capital budget, which still awaits the governor's signature, sends $50,000 to Adak to study the social and economic returns of an Arctic Ocean cargo shuttle to Iceland. The passage would be a competitive route to the Panama Canal.

"The question that needs to be addressed is what are the economics that would drive an arctic shuttle concept," said Ben Ellis of the Anchorage-based research group Institute of the North.

The group has worked closely with Adak officials to study the shuttle concept. Ellis said it likely would be at least a couple of decades before the ice melts enough to open the Arctic passages, but other countries such as Russia, Canada, Iceland and Greenland already are working toward utilizing the routes once available.

"Experts from Alaska and Iceland will work with Finnish icebreaker technologists, Russian administrators of the Northern Sea Route and other appropriate sources of information in completing the study," the budget proposal states. "The study will determine what further public and private investment might initiate service this decade."

Ellis said the study could aim to answer questions such as whether a seasonal or year-round route would be more economical.

"If the economics says it has to be year-round, you are looking at a different scenario," he said.

It also would examine the political landscape of operating in international waters, he said.

Lamar Cotton, a project manager for the city of Adak, said the route could provide alternative passages between Europe and the Northern Pacific, allowing ships a route quicker than the Panama Canal.

"We recognize this is a long-term look at things," Cotton said.

According to the project proposal, the money would help establish an agreement between the Aleutian and Icelandic ports to share information and pursue gathering other logistical information to establish the route.

The study would likely be commissioned by the Institute of the North, the city of Adak and the Aleut Corp.
Global warming boosts Arctic shipping, oil -report
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

HANOVER, N.H., March 18 (Reuters Life!) - Global warming, blamed for melting polar bears' icy Arctic habitat, could be a boon to the shipping and oil industries in the far north, according to a new U.S. report.

The dramatic decrease in sea ice above the Arctic Circle means formerly impenetrable shipping routes are now or soon could be open for much of the year, the U.S. Arctic Research Commission said in a report released last week at a summit of Arctic scientists in Hanover.

"Diminishing sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean are changing ecosystems, most conspicuously for polar bears," said the commission's report, prepared for President George W. Bush and Congress.

"This also creates unprecedented access for ships that will bring people to the north, and will significantly shorten global marine transportation routes," it said.

The cost difference is dramatic, according to Mead Treadwell, the commission chairman. The estimated cost of transporting a shipping container between northern Europe and Alaska's Aleutian Islands is about $500 he said; moving the same container between Europe and the port of Yokohama, through the Suez Canal, costs about $1,500.

The biennial report is meant to chart a course for the next two years, coinciding with a global scientific undertaking known as the International Polar Year.

Because global warming hits the poles harder and earlier than the rest of the world, the polar year and the commission report focus on the impact of climate change, widely blamed on human activities including the burning of fossil fuels.

RISK OF OIL SPILLS

Beyond shipping, less sea ice means easier access for offshore oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic, which is thought to contain about 25 percent of the world's remaining oil and gas reserves, the report said. It also noted that about half of the fish consumed in the United States comes from the Bering Sea off the Alaskan coast.

With increased prospecting for oil and gas, the risk of spills also rises, spurring the need for new clean-up technologies, Treadwell said in an interview.

"There will be the opportunity and need for changed engineering standards," Treadwell said. "Cleaning up oil in ice is a bear."

The commission is charged with recommending an integrated U.S. policy for research in the Arctic. The budget for this research is about $400 million a year, comparable to what the United States spends on Antarctic research.

In fact, the first of five goals recommended by the commission is to concentrate research on environmental change in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea.

U.S. research should also examine human health in the Arctic, civil infrastructure, natural resource assessment and Earth science, and indigenous language, identity and culture, according to the commission.

Previous plans for Arctic research have been so general and so spread among 15 agencies that they were ineffective for anyone involved in the budget process, Treadwell said.

"We couldn't tell how spending levels were advancing objectives," he said. "We're asking these 15 agencies to put together a more specific plan."
Northwest Passage opening
Arctic ice retreating to record low; route that frustrated mariners for centuries may soon see shipping
September 15, 2007
Associated Press

PARIS — Arctic ice coverage has receded this week to record lows, the European Space Agency said, raising the prospect of greater maritime traffic through a long-sought waterway known as the Northwest Passage.

Until now, the passage has been expected to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multiyear ice pack — sea ice that remains through one or more summers, ESA said.

Satellite images this week showed Arctic ice cover fell to the lowest level since scientists started collecting such information in 1978, according to a statement on Paris-based ESA’s Web site today.

Many experts believe that global warming is to blame for melting the passage. The waters are exposing unexplored resources, and vessels could trim thousands of miles from Europe to Asia compared with the current routes through the Panama Canal.

Ice has retreated to about 1 million square miles, Leif Toudal Pedersen, of the Danish National Space Center, said in the statement. ESA said the previous low was 1.5 million square miles, back in 2005.

Ice levels in the Arctic ebb and flow with the seasons, allowing for intermittent traffic between Europe and Asia across northern Canada — a route explorers and traders have long dreamt could open fully.

Environmentalists fear increased maritime traffic and efforts to tap natural resources in the area could one day lead to oil spills and harm regional wildlife.

Pedersen said the extreme retreat this year suggested the passage could fully open sooner than expected — but ESA did not say when that might be. Efforts to contact ESA officials in Paris and Noordwik, the Netherlands, were unsuccessful.

With ice levels shrinking, some countries — including the United States and Canada — have jockeyed for claims over the passage, also a potentially oil-region region under the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.

Claes Ragner, a researcher with Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute, which works with environmental and political issues over the Arctic, said the opening has symbolic meaning for sea transport.

“Routes between Scandinavia and Japan could be almost halved and a stable and reliable route would mean a lot to certain regions,” he said by telephone.

But even if the passage is opening up and polar ice continues to melt, it will take years for such routes to be practicable, according to Ragner.

“It won’t be ice-free all year around and it won’t be a stable route all year,” he said. “The greatest wish for sea transportation is streamlined and stable routes.’’

“Shorter transport routes means less pollution if you can ship products from A to B on the shortest route, but the fact that the polar ice is melting away is not good for the world in that that we’re losing the Arctic and the animal life there,” Ragner added.

Arctic sea ice naturally extends its surface coverage each winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and recedes each summer, ESA said, but the overall loss has increased since satellite records were begun in 1978.

The opening this week was not the most direct waterway, ESA said. That would be through northern Canada along the coast of Siberia, which remains partially blocked.
It also means a lot more money has to be spent into defending and making a presence in the Arctic for Canada while the economic benefits are a long way off.
Inuit leaders protest dumping of waste in Arctic waters
Canadian Press
22 September 2007

OTTAWA -- Inuit leaders are protesting against plans that would change shipping rules and allow the navy to dump garbage and raw sewage into Arctic waters.

They have written to National Defence Minister Peter Mackay to seek clarification on the issue.

“We call on the Canadian navy, and other ships, to exercise restraint in changing their practices in this regard,” said Mary Simon, resident of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “It's clear the navy is reacting to changes in the Canadian Shipping Act. There may be ways to comply with the regulations without causing undue harm to the environment.”

The new rules, expected to go into effect this fall, would allow warships to jettison food wastes and sewage overboard if they are at least 22 kilometres offshore.

The changes came after ship captains worried that keeping waste food aboard would turn the vessels into smelly garbage scows, especially in light of rising temperatures in the region.

“These food remnants may decay or putrefy and generate an occupational health-and-safety issue on board,” a navy internal memo said.

Canadian warships are technically exempt from the Canada Shipping Act as well as from other laws with environmental restrictions, although navy ships are legally bound to comply with ecosystem protections under the Fisheries Act.

The change comes as more ships are dispatched on Arctic sovereignty patrols in an area with limited facilities for disposing of waste on shore.

Duane Smith, president of Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada), also opposes the plan.

“It's very discouraging to learn of this in addition to the increased stress the Arctic is experiencing with climate change, the opening of the Northwest Passage, and concerns over asserting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic,” he said.

“I would ask people to stop and think. The Arctic is not a dumping ground, in the sea or on land. When people go camping, they take their garbage with them and leave the wilderness as they found it.”

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, also protested against the idea, saying it threatens Arctic waters.

“The Arctic ecosystem is already under stress from warmer temperatures and rapid loss of sea ice cover,” she said. “Mr. MacKay should simply direct vessels to return to port to offload trash.”
B.C. touts ‘express trade corridor' to Asia
New container terminal in Prince Rupert banking on changing shipping patterns as global warming keeps Northwest Passage ice free
12 September 2007
The Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- When they formally open a new container terminal in Prince Rupert today, officials will trumpet an “express trade corridor” that shaves more than two days from shipping times between Asia and North America.

But with the ribbons barely cut at the British Columbia port's Fairview Terminal, another shipping route – an ice-free Northwest Passage – is drawing attention for its potential to transform global shipping patterns and lop thousands of kilometres from conventional routes.

“We have a situation, with global warming, that the Northwest Passage is open,” panelist Joseph Spears said Monday at the Canada Maritime Conference in Vancouver, adding that the route could become “the next Panama Canal.”

The shipping distance between Asia and Europe via the Northwest Passage is about 9,000 kilometres less than through Panama.

With the prospect of commercial traffic through the route, regulation of Arctic shipping would become a complex issue, Mr. Spears predicted. Canada's Arctic sovereignty policies are likely to bump up against those of the United States, which considers the Northwest Passage an international strait.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July announced plans for up to eight new patrol ships and a deep water Arctic port.

The jurisdictional debates will be playing out against the backdrop of rising volumes of container trade and the constant pressure on shipping lines to provide faster service.

Those factors explain the appeal of Prince Rupert's new terminal, which has already signed up China Ocean Shipping Company as its first ocean carrier.

An additional container port to back up the busy Port of Vancouver “really increases and enhances our capacity to ship goods back and forth,” Werner Knittel, vice-president of the B.C. Division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), said in an interview yesterday.

The CME has not studied the potential of the Northwest Passage but is interested in any options that provide for faster shipping, Mr. Knittel said.

There is no commercial traffic through the Northwest Passage now but cruise ships, research vessels and other craft use the route.

In years past, regular shipping through an ice-free Northwest Passage would have been seen as “pie in the sky,” Mr. Spears said, but ice has been disappearing more quickly than expected, making the route feasible.

That could have an impact on the Port of Churchill, which is located in Manitoba on the west coast of Hudson Bay and is Canada's only Arctic port.

Churchill's shipping season has been edging into November from a former cutoff date of late October, said Bill Drew, executive director of Churchill Gateway Development Corp. and a speaker on the conference panel about Arctic shipping.

While eyeing opportunities that ice-free shipping could provide, the port is worried about global warming's impact on the region's wildlife and the environment, Mr. Drew said.

Churchill's famed polar bears have been dwindling in number as a result of shrinking ice packs, researchers say.

The U.S. Geological Survey said last week that future reduction of sea ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of two-thirds of the world's polar bear population within 50 years.
Coast Guard plans to set up arctic base
By RACHEL D'ORO, Associated Press Writer
October 25, 2007

A Coast Guard reconnaissance team is heading to the far north this week to scope out a new frontier that the warming Arctic climate is opening to ship traffic.

The Coast Guard could set up an operations base in Barrow as early as next spring to monitor waters that are now free of ice for longer periods of the year. Weather permitting, a scouting crew will fly 1,183 miles Thursday from Barrow, the northernmost U.S. town, to the North Pole.

"This is a new area for us to do surveillance," said Rear Adm. Arthur E. Brooks, commander of the Coast Guard's Alaska district. "We're going primarily to see what's there, what ships, if any, are up there."

Thinning ice has made travel along the northern coast increasingly attractive, said Brooks, who plans to accompany the crew in the C-130 flight. Tankers and even cruise ships are beginning to venture into the domain once traveled only by indigenous hunters and research vessels, such as the Coast Guard ice-cutter Healy.

The ice cap is believed to be warming faster than the rest of the world, and recent studies suggest shipping routes could open in the Arctic in as little as a decade. Just a few years ago, scientists predicted it would take a century for the ice to melt.

The melting could also open up oil and gas exploration — a prospect that has nations in the circumpolar north racing to declare their sovereignty in the region.

"This all points to increased traffic," Brooks said. "I've got to get ready for this increased traffic."

Brooks hopes to start with a seasonal base that would rely on existing infrastructure in Barrow, a town of 4,000. Plans are "totally in the beginning stages," but Brooks said the Coast Guard could use a helicopter, small response boats and possibly a fixed-wing plane to assist ships in distress, conduct surveillance, and run search and rescue missions.

He said he is in talks with his counterpart in Russia's Far East about managing an expected increase in traffic in the Bering Strait. Ultimately, he hopes to set up a cooperative relationship with Russia's border guard in the Arctic.

But Russia, like other northern countries, has taken a competitive stance. In August the nation sent submarines to place a Russian flag under the North Pole. Canada and Denmark also are looking to claim waters up to the North Pole. All three nations claim the seabed is part of their continental shelves under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The U.S. has long snubbed the high seas treaty, which recognizes sovereign rights over a nation's continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles, and beyond, if a country can supply proof to substantiate its geographic claims.

President Bush is pushing the Senate to ratify the treaty and join the more than 150 nations currently party to it. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has held recent hearings on the issue and a full Senate vote could come by year's end — a process being closely watched by the State Department.

"As the president has stated, joining . . . gives the United States a seat at the table when it comes to rights that are vital to U.S. interests," said State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson.

In preparation for ratification, scientists are mapping eight areas around the United States to gauge the limits of the nation's continental shelf. Because of its vast spread and resource potential, an area above Alaska called the Chukchi Cap is of particular interest, according to State Department officials.

This summer, researchers aboard the cutter Healy completed a third round of surveys of the Arctic seafloor north of Alaska. At least one more polar expedition will be necessary, said the project's lead scientist, oceanographer Larry Mayer of the University of New Hampshire.

In this year's study, researchers were surprised by ice that was "very forgiving," allowing them to cover a far larger area than anticipated, according to Mayer.

"The ice was much more broken up and receded than in other years," he said.

Mayer would welcome the Coast Guard expanding its Arctic duties beyond research vessels.

"From someone who works there all the time, it would be nice if the Coast Guard had a presence there, just for safety reasons," he said.

___

On the Net:

http://www.ccom.unh.edu
I believe under international maritime rules, if a passageway is unpatrolled, then it becomes international waters after a number of years, even if it's within a country. I remember getting that from a CBC report. They did a series on the Arctic not long ago.
It's an internal waterway of Canada. The Innuit have lived and traversed it for thousands of years. The land was signed over to Canada in return for protection of it by the Canadian government. The Innuit are Canadian citizens and demand that the Canadian government live up to the agreement by ensuring the sovereignty and defence of this territory. Canada has, not only an interest in enforcing Canadian borders, but an obligation to these Canadian citizens in our north.

Now that the ice is breaking up, this obligation doesn't end. The Arctic waters in the Canadian archipeligo are Canadian INTERNAL WATERS. We ask permission to sail up the Mississippi River or down the Rhine. We demand the same courtesy. Unfortunately, people don't seem to respect this, so Canadian militarization of the north seems inevitable. It has already started, and will only accelerate.

If people really want to touch a raw nerve with Canadians, this is it. Even though most Canadians have never been to the north, this is an issue that universally resonates. Canadians may compromise in many areas, but they are not going to back down on this one. It's like trying to take the Alamo away from a Texan.
Nunavut taken aback by military plan for drone patrols
'I have no idea what these are,' premier says as MLAs pan plan

Last Updated: Friday, October 26, 2007 | 10:02 AM CT
CBC News

Nunavut's lawmakers voiced concerns Thursday about the Canadian military's plans to buy a fleet of remote-controlled aircraft to patrol the Arctic.

CBC News learned earlier this week that the military plans to buy the unmanned aerial drones, which are controlled from the ground and do not require a pilot, within the next five years.

But MLAs with the Nunavut government said they weren't informed of those plans, and argued such aircraft won't work in the Arctic environment. The government plans to tell Ottawa of its concerns about the drones.

"I have no idea what these are," Premier Paul Okalilk told reporters Thursday, adding that he's not even aware of any Inuktitut term for that specific aircraft.

"It'd be great to know more about them, and especially for our hunters and for Nunavut residents that may see them."
'It's nonsense,' MLA charges

A military spokesman told CBC News that the drones — known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs — will fly day-long surveillance to monitor the Arctic for intruders.

UAVs will come equipped with cameras, radar, radios, electronic sensors, and possibly weapons.

But Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo said he doesn't want the drones in the Arctic, citing U.S. studies that say the aircraft are not suited for severe Arctic weather or its dark season.

"Nunavummiut want to be assured that our sovereignty is well-protected. However, this plan makes absolutely no sense. It's nonsense," Tootoo told the legislative assembly Thursday.

House leader Ed Picco agreed, adding that he spoke with some manufacturers of unmanned aerial drones this summer because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plans to use them in the North.

"I'm not in favour of the unmanned drones in five years' time. It's untested technology," Picco said.

"I'm suggesting to you that the federal government needs to do something right now. We have intrusions into the Canadian Arctic."

Picco added that news of the remote-controlled aircraft is another example of the federal government failing to keep Nunavut informed about its plans for the Arctic.

"You'd think there would be more an understanding from our federal partner that when we're talking about sovereignty issues, when we're talking about passage through the Northwest Passage, when we're making announcements on unmanned vehicles, that they would be keeping the government of Nunavut — and indeed, Nunavummiut — informed," he said.

Picco said he will write to Ottawa on behalf of the government to suggest a boost in manned surveillance and other technology.
Russia to file Arctic claim to U.N. this year: radio
Tue Oct 30, 2007 11:45 AM ET

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will file a claim to the gigantic mineral wealth of the Arctic seabed with the United Nations by the end of the year, Russia's natural resources minister said on Tuesday.

Russia, the world's biggest country, says a whole swathe of the Arctic seabed should belong to Moscow because the area is really an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev told the Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei radio station that Russia would submit its claim with the United Nations this year, according to a transcript of the interview supplied by his ministry.

"We can hardly start the economic exploitation of this territory, which is beyond Russia's borders, without the agreement of other countries, without the agreement of the UN," Trutnev told the radio station.

"The scientists think that the data for submitting a claim is sufficient. We will fight for Russia's right to this plot," he said, adding that the bid would be ready by the end of the year.

Russia, already the world's second biggest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, is in a race with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States to control the giant reserves of oil, gas and precious metals that would become more accessible if global warming shrinks the ice cap.

Russian officials say the Lomonosov ridge, a vast underwater mountain range that runs underneath the Arctic, is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

A Russian expedition under the North Pole this August took samples of the seabed and planted a Russian flag to symbolically stake the Kremlin's claim.

Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States and Denmark -- which governs Greenland -- all have a shoreline within the Arctic Circle, and have a 200-mile economic zone around the north of their coastlines.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, any state with an Arctic coastline that wishes to stake a claim to a greater share of the Arctic must lodge its submission with the U.N.'s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Russia lodged a claim with the UN commission in 2001. It responded a year later by recommending Russia make a revised submission with additional research.

Since then, Moscow has been attempting to gather scientific evidence to back its claim.

Russian geologists estimate the Arctic seabed has at least 9 billion to 10 billion metric tons of fuel equivalent, about the same as Russia's total oil reserves.

But Trutnev said current Russian official estimates were of up to 5 billion metric tons of hydro-carbon resources.

Asked if there was a struggle for the Arctic, he said: "More like real competition."
On and under the water
20 October 2007
The Globe and Mail

Navy

The Canadian navy has sent frigates and its smaller marine coastal defence vessels to the North on exercises for the past two years, but they can't stay much beyond September because their hulls aren't reinforced against the ice. The government has announced that over the next several years it will acquire about seven patrol vessels capable of breaking one-year-old ice. Although some were disappointed, analysts point out that when the ice is thick, the marine threat to Canadian sovereignty is small. To accommodate the new patrol vessels, a refuelling facility will be built at Nanisivik, Nunavut. Once built, the vessels will have the daunting task of patrolling an area the size of continental Europe.

Submarines

Canada's fleet is powered by diesel fuel, and although the country's sole operational sub did take part in this year's northern exercises, subs aren't deployed under the unpredictable ice because diesel subs need to surface to recharge their engines. Nuclear submarines, operated by Russia, the United States, France and Britain, can patrol under the ice for extended periods without surfacing.

Coast Guard

The Canadian Coast Guard deploys six vessels to the Arctic from June to November, mainly to break ice for barges bringing crucial supplies to remote communities. Two of the ships are heavy ice-breakers, capable of operating in multi-year ice, and four are medium ice-breakers. Another two ships with reinforced hulls are used primarily for scientific research in the North. The Coast Guard ships are not armed, and maintaining Canadian sovereignty is not part of their mandate.
Both Arctic routes open, a rarity tied to warming
8 September 2008
International Herald Tribune

Leading ice specialists in Europe and the United States have agreed for the first time that a ring of navigable waters has opened all around the fringes of the cap of sea ice drifting on the warming Arctic Ocean.

By many accounts, this is the first time in at least half a century, if not longer, that the Northwest Passage over North America and the Northern Sea Route over Europe and Asia have been open simultaneously.

While currents and winds play a role, specialists say, the expanding open water in the far north provides the latest evidence that the Arctic Ocean, long a frozen region hostile to all but nuclear submariners and seal hunters, is transforming during the summers into more of an open ocean.

Global warming from the continuing buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases is almost certainly contributing to the ice retreats, many Arctic specialists now agree, although they hold a variety of views on how much of the recent big ice retreats is caused by human activity.

Last month, news reports said that satellites showed navigable waters through both fabled Arctic shipping routes.

But those satellite findings were at first disputed by the U.S. National Ice Center, run by the navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The center said the satellites monitoring the ice were fooled by broad stretches of fresh water pooling atop ice floes, which can resemble open sea lanes.

On Friday, however, citing fresh images using sensors that can more carefully distinguish ice from water, the Ice Center concurred, issuing a statement concluding, ''This is the first recorded occurrence of the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route both being open at the same time.''

For years, polar scientists have been predicting that warming is driving the region into a new, more watery state. With further warming, they say, broad open-water expanses will prevail in the summer followed by the formation of ice in the winter. But such ice will generally be too thin to last through the next summer.

In essence, Arctic waters may be behaving more like those around Antarctica, where a broad fringe of sea ice builds each winter and nearly disappears in the summer. Reflecting the complexity of the global climate, the extent of winter sea ice in Antarctica has been expanding of late.

Shippers have dreamed for centuries of sending cargo along Arctic routes - a huge shortcut compared with other long-distance sea routes - but Pablo Clemente-Colón, chief scientist at the National Ice Center, said the open water in the passages over Russia, particularly, remains clotted with thick, dangerous floes and can also close up in a matter of hours.
Thaw of polar regions may need new UN laws -experts

OSLO, Sept 7 (Reuters) - A new set of United Nations laws may be needed to regulate new Arctic industries such as shipping and oil exploration as climate change melts the ice around the North Pole, legal experts said on Sunday.

They said existing laws governing everything from fish stocks to bio-prospecting by pharmaceutical companies were inadequate for the polar regions, especially the Arctic, where the area of summer sea ice is now close to a 2007 record low.

"Many experts believe this new rush to the polar regions is not manageable within existing international law," said A.H. Zakri, Director of the U.N. University's Yokohama-based Institute of Advanced Studies.

Fabled shipping passages along the north coast of Russia and Canada, normally clogged by thick ice, have both thawed this summer, raising the possibility of short-cut routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Dozens of legal experts are meeting in Iceland from Sept. 7-9 to debate the legal needs of the polar regions. Other threats include a surge in tourism, with 40,000 vistors to Antarctica in 2007 against just 1,000 in 1987.

Many legal specialists believe there is a lack of clarity in existing laws about shipping, mining, sharing of fish stocks drawn northwards by the melting of ice, and standards for clearing up any oil spills far from land.

"Oil in particular and risks of shipping in the Arctic are big issues. It's incredibly difficult to clean up an oil spill on ice," said conference chairman David Leary of the Institute of Advanced Studies, which is organising the conference with Iceland's University of Akureyri.

"The question is: do we deal with it in terms of the existing laws or move to a new, more global framework for the polar regions?" he told Reuters.

"SEVERE" CONDITIONS

Some experts say the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is unclear, for instance, when it speaks of the rights of states to impose restrictions -- such as compulsory pilots for ships -- off their coasts in "particularly severe climatic conditions" or when ice covers the sea for "most of the year."

With the ice receding fast, defining what conditions are "particularly severe" could be a problem, said law professor Tullio Scovazzi of the University of Milano-Bicocca.

Leary said the eight nations with Arctic territories -- the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland -- have so far preferred to limit discussion to existing international laws.

The WWF environmental group is among those urging a new U.N. convention to protect the Arctic, partly fearing that rising industrial activity will increase the risk of oil spills like the Exxon Valdez accident off Alaska.

"We think there should be new rules, stricter rules. We are proposing a new convention for the protection of the Arctic Ocean," said Tatiana Saksina of the WWF.

Alaska's state governor Sarah Palin, Republican vice presidential candidate in Nov. 4's U.S. election, is an advocate of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

A boom in tourism in Antarctica meanwhile risks the accidental introduction of new species to an environment where the largest land creature is a flightless midge.

Bio-prospecting may also need new rules. Neural stem cells of Arctic squirrels could help treat human strokes, while some Arctic fish species have yielded enzymes that can be used in industrial processes.
Canada stresses Arctic maritime co-operation
24 October 2008
Lloyd's List

WHILE sovereignty issues remain alive, a Canadian government representative at an international conference in Montreal on the outlook for Arctic shipping has underlined the existing strong co-operation between the countries concerned in planning the economic future.

“We don’t have major issues with any country,” said Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade legal adviser Alan Kessel.

Speaking at the Lloyd’s List Arctic Shipping North America conference, he said: “When the Russians put a flag on the North Pole, it doesn’t mean they own it.”

He said that the US, Canada, Russia and the five Nordic nations on the Arctic Council were working “very closely”, notably on scientific research expeditions such as a recent mapping exercise that involved a large US icebreaker clearing the path for a Canadian research vessel.

Under the current Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has emphatically voiced its claim that the Northwest Passage constitutes internal territorial waters.

James Steele, a diplomat at the US Embassy in Ottawa, reiterated the Washington view that the Northwest Passage is an international strait which should provide “unfettered access” to ships.

Mr Steele disclosed that an updated Arctic policy by Washington authorities was expected to be released before the end of this year. The document will cover, among other matters, US security interests, mechanisms for international governance and environmental protection.

Participants in the conference agreed that even more so within the context of the drastic melting ice cover of the past few years, it was crucial to maintain close dialogue with the aboriginal communities in the region. Their numbers were expected to increase from just over 50,000 today to an estimated 66,125 by 2020. “Shipping in the Far North is about people as customers and communities,” said Suzanne Paquin, president of Transport Nanuk, a division of Logistec, which operates a joint shipping venture with Inuit companies.

Fednav vice-president Tom Paterson agreed, noting “it’s their land” and that aboriginal communities were rightly concerned about response capability in the event of major incidents and oil spills.

“The underwriters need to be brought along, too,” he said. “There must be a clear set of harmonised rules for ship construction and much better charts. Many things need to be put in place before the Arctic opens up further to commercial shipping, even in summertime.”

The United States and Canada had what Mr Paterson called “a natural jurisdiction” in the Arctic. Canadian authorities should control ships entering the eastern section from Resolute Bay whereas the US authorities should be informed of all ship passages from the western section at Point Barrow, Alaska, he said.

He said Canada’s federal government had allocated substantial new resources to defending its strategic interests in the Northwest Passage, but they had not gone far enough. In addition to constructing a deepwater port, the government had announced plans to order one Polar-class icebreaker capable of driving through multi-year ice at a cost of C$720m ($573.6m) as well as six to eight armed Arctic patrol vessels with limited ice-breaking capacity.

Ms Paquin said “tens of millions of dollars” in more funding was needed from the Canadian government just for marine infrastructure.

One panel discussion revolved around the pressure put on resources and infrastructure in the region by the steady increase of cruiseship activity. US and Canadian Coast Guard officials stressed it was especially important for cruise vessels to report their presence, which was not always the case, should help be required for dealing with a mishap.

Cruise North Expeditions president Dugald Wells also singled out one safety area for improvement: “Life-saving equipment like covered life-boats should be mandatory,” he said.
Alaska Coast Guard admiral braces for Arctic shipping made possible by global warming
6 February 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Global warming hurts polar bears but could be a boon for international shipping, if vessels eventually use the Arctic Ocean to cut transit routes in half between Europe and Asia. The U.S. Coast Guard is scrambling to get ready.

Arctic shipping lanes expected to appear as more ice melts would send vessels through the Bering Strait and the Coast Guard last summer sent vessels and aircraft north to "count noses" and find out who was already there. The operation gave Rear Adm. Gene Brooks, commander of the district that oversees Alaska, a firsthand look at the lack of infrastructure along America's northernmost coast that could be used to prevent a Titanic or an Exxon Valdez disaster.

"I don't want a cruise ship sinking that people are making movies about 100 years later," Brooks said. "I don't want a tanker grounding that the Supreme Court is considering 20 years later."

The Coast Guard would be expected to rescue mariners in distress, protect the environment and provide homeland defense, but until a few years ago, the improbability of Arctic shipping meant no one even bothered compiling routine navigational data routine.

"That's some of the things that make shipping hazardous," Brooks said. "We haven't done the surveys that we've done in southeast or southcentral Alaska, just because there were no ships there. Why bother? And oh, by the way, it's hard to get up there and do bottom surveys."

The need has changed with the shrinking of Arctic ice, which has put polar bears on the threatened species list.

Summer sea ice in 2007 melted to 1.65 million square miles, nearly 40 percent less than the long-term average between 1979 and 2000. Climate model predict a continued downward spiral, possibly with an Arctic Ocean that's ice free during summer months by 2030 or sooner.

Summer melting last year nearly set a new record and for the first time in recorded history, both the Northwest Passage through Canada and a northeast route along the coast of Russia opened up -- but only for about eight days in September.

"Open is a general term," Brooks said. "They were considered ice free, which is like 10 to 20 percent sea ice." The routes remain too hazardous for international shipping companies.

"If you talk to them, they will say, 'Listen, we make our money on predetermined routes, predetermined times. Everything is time-distance for us, and this is too risky. Lloyds of London will not yet insure these routes, therefore we're not taking them.'"

That gives the Coast Guard and other U.S. agencies from science experts to the State Department a window to prepare.

When vessels come over the top of the world, they will pass through the Bering Strait, the 53-mile wide opening between Alaska and Russia, and past the Diomede Islands in the middle.

Brooks calls it the Bering "Gate," a choke point that will require a traffic separation scheme plan negotiated with Russia and approved by the International Maritime Organization.

"We have no regulations or controls in the Bering Strait for ships or ship traffic," he said.

The Coast Guard last summer counted about 100 transits through the strait, primarily vessels resupplying communities or research outposts. One was an ecotourism cruise ship, the Bremen, that took 400 tourists to Barrow, America's northernmost city. That gave Brooks pause.

"I've got nothing to deal with her right now if she has a problem and there's nobody with her," Brooks said.

Brooks calls his agency's Arctic experience has been "episodic and superficial." On the foray last year, vessels were accompanied by Canadians.

"All the ships I sent north this summer, I had Canadians on board, because Canadians have the ice experience that my people don't have," he said.

Like the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska, the Arctic coast lacks an integrated network of marine radio coverage.

"I rely on satellite phone calls and electronic beacons to tell me when people are in distress or when something happens," he said.

The agency sent 37 people to Barrow last summer. They took up much of the community's hotel space, borrowed office space from a science consortium and dined at a cafeteria set up for an Air Force contractor.

"We consumed their infrastructure with 37 people. If I was going to move 100 or 200 people, there's no infrastructure anywhere that could handle that," he said.

As for equipment, "Our boat were too big and our helos were too small," Brooks said.

The helicopters were H-65, French-designed Dauphins helicopters with a range of about 120 miles.

"The problem with the North Slope, flying from Barrow, is that everything is more than 100 miles away," he said. That requires helicopter hopping and refueling, a potentially fatal delay for someone in the water.

The 370-foot high endurance cutter, the Hamilton, helped extend the range of the helicopters but the agency's 25-foot "safe" boats, launched from heavy trailers, were not the best fit.

"This is essentially a beach operation. You're launching on sand. While we were able to do it, it's just really hard."

Brooks also found out that "ice free" really is not.

"When the wind blows hard from the north for a week, the sea ice will come down and jam the beach in Barrow," Brooks said. "There was a week when we couldn't launch the boat because the beach was iced in. In August. The native Alaskans knew all about this but it was news to me."

Brooks also is aware that the changing Arctic could mean drilling rigs or undersea mining in his jurisdiction. He's is looking for direction for a "hard, faraway, fragile place" before global warming creates shipping lanes.

"Essentially we've asked the Coast Guard to ask the American people, 'How much Coast Guard to you want?"

A Coast Guard buildup must be balanced with consideration for Alaska's indigenous people, who have plied the icy waters for centuries hunting whales, walrus and seals, Brooks said.

Ten days before leaving office, President George W. Bush signed a new Arctic policy that noted increased human activity, and therefore, a requirement by the United States to "assert a more active and influential national presence to protect its Arctic interests and to project sea power throughout the region." Brooks is waiting for direction from President Barack Obama.

"My attitude is, 'Boss, tell me what you want to do,'" Brooks said.
Russia sending more ships, scientists to Arctic
12 February 2009

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia will modernize its icebreaker fleet and station more researchers in the Arctic as part of its push to stake its claim to the vast resources of the disputed polar region, a presidential envoy said Thursday.

Artur Chilingarov, a famed polar scientist who was recently appointed to the post, said that Russia's sizable icebreaker fleet gives the nation a strong edge in Arctic exploration. He said that Russia would build a new Arctic research ship to supplement the Akademik Fyodorov, which conducted a 2007 expedition in which Russian mini-submarines put a capsule with Russian flag on the Arctic seabed.

Chilingarov told reporters that Russia is also preparing to send a team of some 50 polar scientists to the island of Spitsbergen, where Norway claims exclusive rights. He said an advance team will leave Saturday to chose the place for the station.

"The Arctic has a special geopolitical importance for Russia," Chilingarov said at a news conference.

Chilingarov said that the government's policy guidelines on the Arctic envisage "expanding the Russian presence there, intensifying research and rebuilding a network of polar stations."

In 2007, Chilingarov led two Russian mini-submarines on a mission to stake Russia's claim to the region that is believed to contain huge oil and gas reserves. The two subs descended some 2.5 miles (4 kilometers ) to the Arctic seabed, where they collected geologic and water samples, and dropped a titanium canister containing the Russian flag.

The Russian mission exacerbated the controversy over an area which is believed to contain as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.

Russia, the United States, Canada and other northern countries are trying to assert jurisdiction over the Arctic, whose oil, gas and minerals until recently have been considered too difficult to recover. The dispute has intensified with growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes and resource development possibilities.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said last fall that Russia's long-term development and competitive place in world markets is dependent on developing Arctic resources.

Chilingarov said that Russia is preparing to resubmit its claim that an underwater mountain range crossing the polar region is part of Russia's continental shelf. Moscow first submitted the claim in 2001 to the United Nations, but it was rejected for lack of evidence.

Chilingarov said that Russia took notice of NATO officials' meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, last month at which they said the alliance will need a military presence in the Arctic as major powers rush to lay claim to lucrative energy reserves.

"We aren't going to wage a new Cold War in the Arctic," Chilingarov said, adding, however, that Russia will look to protect its interests.
Former icebreaker captain calls for better Arctic regulations
1 July 2009

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A multi-national council this spring recommended northern countries, including the United States, adopt uniform and mandatory rules for construction of ships that access the Arctic Ocean, where thinning ice and increasing resource development should accelerate commercial shipping.

Shipping through the ice-covered ocean -- a basin ringed by major fisheries, bookended by land-based mining projects, and host to high-profile oil and gas leasing -- has risen, but rules and guidelines for shipbuilders and Arctic countries vary or, where standardized, remain voluntary, the council reported in a major assessment of arctic shipping.

The call for harmonized standards and laws, made through an Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment led by the eight-nation Arctic Council, comes as researchers consistently find signs that Arctic ice has thinned drastically and analysts mull the potential ramifications. The group cites scientific indications the Arctic's year-round ice cover could contain melting spots and channels within a few years.

But Lawson Brigham, a former icebreaker captain now serving as professor of geography and arctic policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said Wednesday that despite that melting, the ocean remains -- and will remain -- ice-covered for most of the year, justifying calls for comprehensive standards uniform enough for shipbuilders, shipping companies, national governments and others to follow regardless of home port or location.

"It is highly plausible there will be greater marine access and longer seasons of navigation, except perhaps during winter, but not necessarily less difficult ice conditions for marine operations," the assessment's summary states.

Brigham, who outlined the assessment project's April report at a Wednesday presentation in Fairbanks, served as chairman of the five-year assessment project. Led by Canada, Finland and the United States, the project aimed to weigh regional, local and circumpolar perspectives, focusing on shipping activity past, current and future in Arctic waters.

The United Nations-affiliated International Maritime Organization has drafted voluntary standards covering many aspects of marine policy for Arctic States to follow, according to the assessment report. But such measures, Brigham said, would be more effective in protecting the Arctic environment and improving safety if the standards were mandatory and uniform across national boundaries.

Since the report's release in late April, the IMO has begun to weigh such a proposal, Brigham said, and it looks poised to adopt the plan.

The assessment included input from a wide range of groups, including shipbuilders, northern states, insurers and shipping companies, Brigham said. The final report also recommends countries and private industry work together on legislation aimed at protecting the Arctic environment from the prospect of a major oil spill. It further suggests nations address a shortage of infrastructure such as deep-water ports, icebreakers and navigational charts, and that they work to improve traffic awareness systems.

"There is a general lack of marine infrastructure in the Arctic, except for areas along the Norwegian coast and northwest Russia, compared to other marine regions of the world with high concentrations of ship traffic," the assessment reads.

The assessment project was called for by the Arctic Council, a multinational partnership, after previous reports found "reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources." The group recommended Arctic states weigh the need to designate areas for international environmental protection. Brigham said such regions already exist in parts of the world, including one off the coast of South Africa.

Brigham's presentation was part of an ongoing lecture series hosted by the UAF-based Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy.
Direct Arctic passages likely to remain cost prohibitive
23 June 2009
Lloyd's List

SHIPOWNERS wishing to make use of the shorter Arctic routes to send vessels between Europe and Asia will still find it unfeasible even when the year-round ice melts, writes Craig Eason.

Norwegian Classification Society Det Norske Veritas has published a study that evaluated the use of these shorter routes rather than the Suez Canal.

Currently, the fees paid to Russian authorities for ice passage and icebreaker escort through the northeast passage are prohibitively high.

One Canadian operator recently inquired about sending an ice-class vessel through the waters when it looked like opening up for the summer months, but withdrew the plan after assessing the costs.

Even if in future years the ice recedes far enough for owners to contemplate a more direct route across the Arctic Sea while remaining outside Russian territorial waters, trade constraints will remain, said DNV programme director for Arctic shipping Morten Mejlænder-Larsen.

He said that if one takes the same climate change model as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there would still be concentrations of thick ice and ridging in winter and spring in 2050, which would be an impediment.

“If containerships are to be strengthened and upgraded to meet these challenges, the disadvantage of a hull optimised for icebreaking is that its efficiency is significantly reduced in open water.

“Transit in open water will be a main part of the shorter route, and this will lessen the gains achieved by taking this route.”

He said the situation could change if the Russian fees were adjusted to make the coastal routes more economically viable, but he believes that the majority of trade in the region will be bound for northern Russian ports or offshore installations.
Wanted: mid-sized icebreakers, long-range choppers, perspective
11 June 2009
The Globe and Mail

The North Pole is closer to Paris than it is to Ottawa. Russia's northernmost Arctic island is more than 1,500 kilometres from Alert, Nunavut.

Providing security in Canada's Arctic requires a sense of perspective – and a willingness to co-operate. The most significant security threats are found along the Arctic's southern fringes and involve non-state actors, such as drug smugglers, not other nation-states.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci has warned that terrorists might use an ice-free Northwest Passage to traffic in weapons of mass destruction. It could also serve as an entry point for illegal immigrants. Gravel airstrips are scattered along the Passage, a legacy of the Cold War and countless research and prospecting expeditions.

Foreign cruise ships put hundreds of passengers on shore at Inuit communities that have scheduled air service but no immigration controls.

In 2006, a Romanian man sailed from Greenland to Grise Fjord, after having been deported from Toronto. He was arrested by the RCMP. In 2007, five Norwegians set out to challenge Canada's Northwest Passage claim. The RCMP intervened, with the help of the Coast Guard icebreaker Wilfred Laurier.

These incidents demonstrate that the RCMP can deal with non-state threats – if they have the support of other government agencies.

As is the case in the rest of Canada, this leaves the Canadian Forces with the principal task of search and rescue. Unfortunately, four old, slow Twin Otter aircraft based in Yellowknife constitute the entirety of the Canadian Forces Arctic fleet.

Hercules aircraft based in Southern Canada are frequently called upon but take six hours to reach the Northwest Passage. No long-range Cormorant helicopters are based in the Arctic, not even in summer, because it's considered inefficient to locate search-and-rescue assets where a sparse population creates a statistically low risk.

Accidents in the Arctic tend to be serious. Each summer, thousands of older tourists visit the Canadian Arctic on cruise ships. In November of 2007, a Canadian-owned vessel sank during an Antarctic voyage. Fortunately, the sea was calm and two other ships were close by.

More than 100,000 people fly over the Canadian Arctic each day on high-latitude routes to Europe and Asia. Retired colonel Pierre Leblanc says the prospect of a crash was the one thing that kept him awake at night when commanding Canadian Forces Northern Area.

Basing two Cormorant helicopters in Iqaluit and Inuvik during the summertime would be a good start. From there, they could cover the areas of greatest maritime activity in the Canadian Arctic – Baffin Bay and the Beaufort Sea – as well as the Northwest Passage. Improving search-and-rescue capabilities would also facilitate the enforcement of our domestic laws, and thus our sovereignty claims. A long-range helicopter is the perfect platform for boarding foreign vessels. Much better, indeed, than the “Arctic offshore patrol ships” that the Canadian Forces are due to acquire beginning in 2015. The patrols ships will not be designed to break ice and, for this reason, will not be sent into the Northwest Passage.

The new ships are best thought of as replacements for the appallingly slow Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel, with some additional ice-strengthening that will enable them to be used in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in winter, and Baffin Bay in summer.

Building naval vessels specifically for the Arctic would be inefficient, as the federal government seemed to realize when it announced plans for the Diefenbaker: a $720-million icebreaker intended for the Coast Guard. The procurement process has already been suspended, and for good reason. The Diefenbaker was intended to be much larger and more powerful than sea-ice projections warrant, given the accelerating effects of climate change.

The money should now be redirected to the acquisition of two or three mid-sized icebreakers, which would do the job well and provide much greater coverage. While the ships are being built, it would make sense to add a light machine gun and long-range helicopter to each of our existing icebreakers. Their Coast Guard crews could be trained in forcible interdictions, equipped with small arms, and made members of the Naval Reserve.

They would then be of more assistance to the Canadian Forces with search-and-rescue, and to the RCMP with law enforcement. All this while fulfilling their existing, essential functions of breaking ice for commercial vessels, maintaining navigation devices and supporting Arctic research.

Instead of militarizing the Canadian Arctic at great cost and little effect, we should build on our strengths –and co-operate.

Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.

This article is an edited version of a presentation to the House of Commons standing committee on national defence.
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