Don't get caught out in the cold

The superpowers are keen to assert strategic interests in the Arctic The superpowers are keen to assert strategic interests in the Arctic

Eyes are looking north to a vast region of lucrative international trade promise – a region served rudimentarily for the most part by seaports. The superpowers are becoming ever keener to assert their strategic interests in the warming Arctic.

Infrastructure serving the important High Northern sea routes is unsurprisingly still in its infancy because it is not long since conditions were too cold and treacherous for most shipping to countenance. All involved in port management in the region, and the newcomers that developments will attract, are having to pay heed to the imminent need for relevant services.

The High North –generally defined as the entire circumpolar Arctic, including the Barents Sea area – has come into focus because of its high significance for energy, the environment and security on a global scale.

Five big maritime nations (Canada, Denmark, Norway, the US and Russia) have a direct stake by virtue of their territorial possessions bordering the Arctic Ocean. China is also on the scene because as the largest trading nation, it is looking for significantly shorter sailing routes to the European markets.

Usefully, a checklist has been issued by the Nordic Association of Marine Insurers (Cefor) for underwriters, and ship owners and managers, to heighten awareness of risks associated with voyages in Arctic waters. It makes for essential reading for port managements, too, for they could be caught up in offsetting the extreme impacts on individual ship voyages.

The checklist underlines what it calls one of the most relevant risks: the lack of infrastructure and ability to bring a damaged vessel back to a place where repairs can be carried out. There are said to be hardly any suitable ports in West Greenland or on the Northern Sea Route where spare parts can be obtained or flown in. Underwriters advise that ports where spares can be purchased or easily delivered, and where depths and quays are suitable for a particular ship, should be mapped in advance of voyages.

Accident scenarios are cited which bring port capabilities into play. “As an example,” the guidance says, “it recently transpired that a turbocharger cannot be flown into Nuuk because it exceeds the cargo capacity of a Twin Otter airplane. This means that a minor casualty can become extremely costly.”  In remote Arctic waters, tugboats could take weeks just to get to a distressed vessel.

Underwriters and ship owners should do their best to make prearrangements with salvors and include a clause relating to the tow of the ship, to a European or Asian port in regard to the Northern Sea Route, to the Norwegian mainland for Svalbard, and to St John’s Newfoundland or Iceland's Reykjavik for ships in the Greenland trade.

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