Transportation Safety Board investigators are looking into what caused a 117-metre cruise ship to temporarily run aground near Kugaaruk on Aug. 24.

It’s unclear whether there will be any penalties levied after a cruise ship ran aground near Kugaaruk on Aug. 24. The incident is further proof that the Arctic Ocean must be properly charted, says a Resolute businessman and experienced ship’s captain.
photo courtesy of Victor Morozov/

It’s not known whether penalties will ensue.

“Should Transport Canada identify non-compliance with marine safety rules and regulations, the department will take appropriate action,” stated Transport Canada spokesperson Annie Joannette.

No fuel spill or pollution from the incident has been detected and no injuries were reported, according to Canadian Coast Guard communications advisor Lauren Solski.

In Kugaaruk, about 110 km from where the ship sailed into rocks in the Gulf of Boothia, Deputy Mayor Guido Tigvareak said he hadn’t been informed of the details.

“I don’t know what happened,” Tigvareak said on Aug. 29.

Asked whether he thinks the cruise ship industry is beneficial in general, he replied, “I don’t know. We’ll find out later.”

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., was notified of the incident at 2:19 p.m. on Aug. 24. The 127 staff and passengers – a mix of tourists and international scientists – were in the second day of a three-week itinerary. Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a Russian sister ship to the Akademik Ioffe sailing under Squamish, B.C.-based cruise line One Ocean Expeditions, arrived approximately 16 hours later. Passengers were transferred and taken to Kugaaruk. They were later flown to Edmonton.

Although the Coast Guard deployed two ships in response to the distress call, the Akademik Ioffe was eventually able to get free of the rocks as the tide rose, allowing the captain to manoeuvre the vessel, according to Solski. The soundness of the ship for future travel was to be decided through an inspection by Transport Canada and the Coast Guard.

A spokesperson for One Ocean Expeditions told Nunavut News that the company has nothing further to add than what it has already made public through news releases, the last one dated Aug. 27. The company did not explain why the ship ran aground.

Lack of reliable charts

The Akademik Ioffe incident is further proof that Canadian Arctic waters need to be properly surveyed to show depths and natural hazards, insisted Mike Stephens, a Resolute entrepreneur and experienced ship’s captain.

He said several vessels have run aground in the North over the past several years and he predicted that such occurrences will become more frequent as shipping traffic increases through the Northwest Passage.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said.

Stephens, a principal in Amarok Enterprises Ltd., has been lobbying the federal government to support a business proposal that he and his spouse, Sarah Salluviniq, have put forward. It would see a ship, properly equipped with multi-beam sonar technology, which Stephens has used elsewhere in the past, survey Arctic Ocean waters while making cargo deliveries. The surveying data would be turned over to the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS), the country’s authority for nautical charts and publications under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Stephens and Salluviniq are also proposing to train local residents to become qualified sailors as part of the ship’s crew of 20.

According to the CHS, only about 10 per cent of Canada’s Arctic waters are adequately surveyed, with one per cent surveyed to modern standards.

Specific to Arctic marine corridors, approximately 32 per cent are adequately surveyed, but only three per cent are surveyed to modern standards.

Although the federal government recently invested $110 million in the CHS to bolster modern charting in the Arctic and other “key areas” of the country, there’s only a short window to collect data in Arctic waters due to ice and harsh climate, stated Lauren Sankey, a communications officer with the DFO.

“The Canadian Hydrographic Service is always exploring new technologies and collaborative opportunities to expand its ability to chart the Arctic more efficiently,” Sankey said.

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