Much media attention has been given in recent months to the subject of global warming. The impact of this with regard to shipping routes has meant that the famous North West Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific areas is now ice free.
Experts predict that the whole of the Arctic could be ice-free as early as 2030 which is much sooner than has been predicted in the past. These facts have triggered off arguments about who controls the North West Passage that cuts 5,592 miles off a journey between Asia and Europe and also has provided tensions between countries over the possibility of gaining access to the huge reserves of gas and oil thought to lie beneath the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. At a time of low energy reserves these untapped reserves have sparked new interest in these previously ignored polar territories.
A US Geological Survey team recently estimated that the Arctic has up to 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. Previously deep ice and the extremely cold climate have made oil extraction uneconomic but with the thinning of the ice cap thought to be due to global warming, drilling will become feasible, and opens up many new shipping opportunities. In recent years arguments have sprung up over who actually owns the huge Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,200-mile underwater ridge that is thought to hold huge resources. Denmark, Norway, Russia and Canada are all trying to claim ownership. Denmark bases its claim on its ownership of Greenland which only has a population of 57,000 and which was awarded to them in 1933 by an international court. In 2007 Russia planted a titanium capsule containing the Russian Flag on the Lomonosov Ridge, which is 2.5 miles below the ice of the North Pole. The other countries disputed this show of ownership and Canada said they would build a deep-water port at Nanisivik on Baffin Island where they intended to have an armytraining centre for cold weather fighting. Overall the area covered by ice in the Arctic has fallen by a million square kilometres to about 3 million square kilometres in just two years.
One company, which is now serving these remote Arctic regions, is the Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc (NEAS) based in Quebec. They have begun trading from Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada and are making about three sailings per season. Three vessels were employed during the season 2008 from June through to November. The rest of the year, during the winter period, the vessels return to world wide trading, often returning to Europe for dry-docking and maintenance before making voyages gradually making their way back to Canada for the following June to commence another season. The vessels employed during the 2008 season were the Avataq, Umiavut and Aivik.
Aivik 1980/7,048gt was built in France and is classed as a ro-ro, lolo, and heavy lift vessel owned by Igloolik Inc of Montreal whilst Umiavut 1988/6,037gt is a 15-knot vessel built in Japan as the Lindengracht for the Splietoff Group of Holland. She has maintained sailings in season in the Arctic for a number of years now. Recently she has been joined by her sister vessel Avataq 1989/6,037gt which was built by Miho Zosensho KK, Shimizu, Japan as the Poleca. In 1989 she was renamed Mekhanik Volkosh becoming the Tiger Speed in 1991 before being renamed Mekhanik Volkosh for a short period prior to her sale to Spliethoff in 1992 when she became the Lootsgracht. Strengthened for heavy cargoes the ship measures 113.16loa and is equipped with two 50t cranes. On transfer to the name Avataq, registered in Montreal for the season she is owned by Inukshuk Inc and managed by Transport Nanuk of Montreal. When she comes back to Europe in winter she is registered once again in Amsterdam to complete her dual flag and port registration.
As the Avataq (an Inuit Eskimo name for a sealskin float attached to a harpoon line to keep a harpooned animal from sinking), she has her name written on her bow in Inuit lettering as well as normal lettering – a rare sight when she is trading in Europe. Because the Inuit language is spread over such a large and diverse geographical area divided between several different nations and political units and was originally reached by Europeans of differing origins at various periods, there is no uniform way of writing this language. The Canadian connection means that this is a pictographic alphabet where symbols are used in picture writing.
Competition to NEAS in the Nanisivik region is provided by Desgagnes Transport Inc of Quebec who use their Canadian flag roro vessel Camilla Desgagnes 1982/10,085 gt managed by V Ships of Montreal. This vessel was also once well known in Europe when she was the Finnish flag Camilla until 2004 and at that time was a regular visitor to such ports as Birkenhead with paper.
I would like to thank Bob Knoester, Aernut Meijer of Spliethoff, and John Aitken for their help in preparation of this article.
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Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2010 Issue
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