One of the potential challenges facing ship operators in the Arctic or Antarctica is the lack of available search and rescue resources, according to the 2019 Expedition Market Report by Cruise Industry News.
Using the Viking Sky incident earlier this year as an example, Odd Jarl Borch, professor at the Business School of Nord University in Bodø, Norway, said that several vessels and helicopters both from the rescue services and from the offshore industry were made available. And as it turned out, only the helicopters could be used because of the heavy seas. Still, it took 19 hours to airlift 463 people out of the 1,373 guests and crew on board, using four to five helicopters, before the ship was able to propel itself into port.
But in Svalbard, for example, there may be one to two vessels and two helicopters available; the hospital in Longyearbyen may only be able treat two to three seriously injured persons at a time, and medevacs to the mainland of Norway would take several hours. On the East Coast of Greenland and in Franz Josef Land the search and rescue resources are even more scarce, according to Borch.
At the Nord University, Borch heads up Nordlab, which is officially described as a preparedness management lab for the education, research, exercising and testing of management tools and search and rescue missions related to sea-, land- and air-based emergencies.
“We train key personnel at different management levels to handle major incidents, especially in Arctic conditions,” Borch said. Using state-of-the-art simulators, he said Nordlab can simulate all kinds of vessel incidents, including fires and groundings whether for expedition ships or large cruise ships.
“We are now conducting tests for Isfjorden, where the big ships are when they go to Svalbard. We are looking at the support that can be provided and how long it will take to mobilize resources.
“There are emergency plans in place for Svalbard, and there are frequent exercises, but on a relatively modest scale. In addition we have actual incidents, like a trawler that ran aground in January, that provide real rescue experiences.”
Borch said that Nordlab has been tracking the traffic and risk areas in the Arctic and working to create more awareness of safety and preparedness management. Much of this work has been funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has also been promoting cross-border cooperation in the region.
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But incidents do not have be directly related to storms or groundings. He cited a case where a ship’s automation system had shut down the engines because of a cooling water issue. And in the case of the Viking Sky, the Norwegian Maritime Directorate reported that the engines shut down because of low oil pressure.