Sarah Salluviniq and Mike Stephens are prepared to purchase a survey vessel and provide a wide range of services, including Northwest Passage floor mapping and cruise ship escorts.
They’re just waiting on approval from the federal government.
“I’m pretty optimistic for next sealift year,” said Salluviniq, managing director of Amarok Enterprises. “We’re all excited about it, to do the sealift and escorting… it would be really good for people in the North. We’ll be hiring Inuit and we’ll teach them how to run a ship.”
Stephens, Salluviniq’s fiance, the company’s senior vice-president and an experienced ship’s captain, estimates the crew would total close to 20 people.
“It gives them a real career. It’s something that’s sustainable, and we’re not talking about government money. That’s the whole crux of the thing is that we’re not asking them for money,” he said.
He has already approached a couple of cruise lines directly and he said they didn’t object to paying for escort service through the Northwest Passage.
“They’re willing to put money into the local economy,” Stephens said, adding that he and Salluviniq may consider expanding to a fleet of ships depending on how things transpire in 2018.
Stephens has been forming partnerships with hunters and trappers organizations across the territory to identify seasonal wildlife migration routes to ensure cruise ship traffic doesn’t interfere. Conservation staff would also be on board the vessel, he added.
The 72.5-metre ship that Salluviniq and Stephens are prepared to purchase, with backing from investors, is equipped with multi-beam sonar technology that can map the ocean floor to depths of 10,000 metres. The sonar is not harmful to aquatic life, Stephens said. The marine escort service they want to provide while flying a Canadian flag, and the ocean floor surveying, would both aid the federal government’s claim to Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, Stephens asserted. The surveying data would be turned over to the Canadian Hydrographic Service, he added.
For Salluviniq, who runs the food bank in Resolute, another important aspect of the ship’s potential services would be transporting more affordable groceries from the south, including donations to food banks in various Nunavut communities.
A spokesperson with Transport Canada said there is no regulatory requirement for cruise ships in the Arctic to have an escort, but the department “supports vessel operators that implement additional safety measures.” However, Transport Canada does not approve business plans, the spokesperson noted.
That’s not stopping Nunavut Member of Parliament Hunter Tootoo from forwarding the proposal to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
Tootoo met with Salluviniq and Stephens on Sept. 11 to learn of their ambitions.
“As a general rule, Hunter tries to encourage those who will start and/or expand businesses in Nunavut, thus creating employment opportunities and helping achieve a higher standard of living in the territory,” stated Henry Wright, Tootoo’s parliamentary assistant.