Canadian Arctic mandatory mitigation measures

2021-06-25T20:04:36+00:00 June 25th, 2021|Safety|

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is to issue a recommendation for the development and implementation of mandatory mitigation measures to ensure the safety of passenger vessels in the Canadian Arctic, and to protect the vulnerable Arctic environment.

This follows its investigation into the 2018 grounding of the passenger vessel ’Akademik Ioffe’, which determined that there are unique risks associated with operating in the Canadian Arctic.

On 24th August 2018 ‘Akademik Ioffe’, with 102 passengers and 61 crew and expedition members on board, ran aground near the Astronomical Society Islands, 78 nautical miles north-northwest of Kugaaruk, Nunavut.

Multiple search and rescue units from both the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Coast Guard went to the vessel’s assistance.

The vessel refloated on the incoming tide later the same day, and passengers were evacuated and transferred to another passenger vessel the following day.

She sustained serious damage to her hull due to the grounding – two ballast water tanks and two fuel oil bunker tanks were breached and took on water.

About 81 litres of fuel oil was released into the environment. No injuries were reported.

The TSB’s investigation determined that the ’Akademik Ioffe’ was sailing through narrows in a remote area of the Canadian Arctic where none of the vessel crew had ever sailed before, and which was not surveyed to modern hydrographic standards.

Since the navigation charts did not show any shoals or other navigational hazards, the bridge team considered the narrows safe; and despite a note to mariners indicating that the information used to establish water depths was of a reconnaissance nature, they did not implement any additional precautions or add extra personnel to the watch.

Consequently, with the officer of the watch multi-tasking, and the helmsman busy steering the vessel, the steady decrease of the under-keel water depth went unnoticed for more than four minutes, as the echo sounders’ low water depth alarms had been switched off.

The investigation also found that passenger safety operations did not meet some of the SOLAS Convention requirements.

For example, safety briefings were carried out more than 12 hours following the vessel’s departure, while the requirements state that newly-embarked passengers must undergo safety briefings and musters before or immediately upon vessel departure.

In addition, expedition staff were informally tasked to co-ordinate passenger safety during the voyage, and provided the safety briefing to passengers on behalf of the vessel’s crew.

SOLAS  also requires that passenger vessels, such as the ’Akademik Ioffe’, to have in place a decision support system (DSS) to manage all foreseeable emergency situations that may occur on board.

TSB determined that the DSS on board ‘Akademik Ioffe’ did not include emergency procedures for the vessel touching bottom or running aground.

Since 1996, there have been three groundings of passenger vessels and one of a chartered yacht in the Canadian Arctic. TSB’s investigations found that deficiencies in voyage planning or execution were significant contributing factors.

This investigation report also said that operating in the Canadian Arctic poses unique risks, as passenger vessels are often navigating in areas that are not charted to modern standards in a harsh climate, with limited local search and rescue resources.

Given these risks, it is critical that operators of passenger-carrying vessels operating in the Canadian Arctic adopt additional mitigation strategies to address them.

Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, combined, have the regulatory mandate to implement various risk mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood and consequences of a passenger vessel running aground in Arctic waters.

Therefore, until the coastal waters surrounding the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are adequately charted, and if alternate mitigation measures are not put in place, there is a persistent risk that vessels could make contact with the seabed, putting passengers, crew and the environment at risk.

As a result, the TSB recommended that the Department of Transport, in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, develops and implements mandatory risk mitigation measures for all passenger vessels operating in Canadian Arctic coastal waters, it said in its report into the grounding.