Marine search and rescue in the Canadian Arctic is important. K. Joseph Spears and Michael K.P. Dorey in this October 15, 2012 article in Canadian Sailings argue that there is clearly a need for increased Arctic search and rescue (SAR) capability.

Canada has both marine and aviation SAR requirements and obligations that have been agreed to by longstanding binding international agreements.The question is whether these marine search and rescue capabilities in the Canadian Arctic are adequate in view of increasing commercial and cruise ship activity. The challenges are great with respect to SAR response capability in this vast region and the demand will increase as shipping activity increases. This is especially so when it comes to cruise ships that are increasingly entering Arctic waters, and present special challenges given the large number of passengers.


The Need for Marine Search and Rescue in the Canadian Arctic

The sinking of the M/S Explorer in Antarctic waters on November 23, 2007, 20 hours after suffering a gash in its hull. The vessel, owned by a Canadian adventure travel company, was no stranger to Arctic waters. Luckily, there was no loss of life, and its passengers, crew and staff were taken aboard the Norwegian cruise ship M/S Nordnorge after taking to the lifeboats five hours earlier in calm seas. Owners of both vessels were members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), which had developed and implemented a contingency plan for self rescue, whereby cruise vessels were paired for mutual rescue assistance.

This incident could easily have occurred in the Canadian Arctic which has seen at least two serious cruise ship incidents involving the Clipper Adventurer (2010) and Hanseatic (1996), in addition to other vessel groundings in recent years. The summer of 2010 witnessed the grounding of the Clipper Adventurer on a rock near Kugluktuk in Coronation Gulf in the Western Arctic. There was no loss of life and the conditions were calm during and after the grounding on the reef, which was known but not marked on official Canadian Hydrographic services charts. With the assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard research icebreaker Amundsen, which was fortunately nearby, the 128 passengers were safely disembarked. The vessel was salvaged and returned to service. In July of 2012, the cruise ship The World, in compliance with existing Canadian regulations, made its way on a voyage from Vancouver through the Northwest Passage arriving in Newfoundland in September. The World, not an ice-strengthened or Polar-class vessel, was likely carrying over 400 people. While the voyage was without incident, how would we have responded if there had been a call for assistance?