North·Photos

Getting stuck in the icy Arctic means you're on your own

Striking out to sea —especially in the remote and icy Arctic— always carries a risk. What if something goes wrong? Who do you call for help? The short answer is: you're on our own.

AP journalists strike out on Finnish icebreaker travelling through Northwest Passage

In this Thursday, July 13, 2017 photo, able seaman Auvo Sinkkonen checks a rescue boat during a maintenance inspection aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sails the Bering Sea to traverse the Arctic's Northwest Passage. The bright orange lifeboats are made of fiberglass, measure 31 by 11 feet and have provisions for more than a week at sea. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

This story is part of a series of dispatches from a team of AP journalists who are traveling through the Arctic Circle's fabled Northwest Passage. Follow them on their journey here

The MSV Nordica is as robust a ship as you can find, but striking out to sea —especially in the remote and icy Arctic— always carries a risk. What if something goes wrong? Who do we call for help? The short answer is: we're on our own.
In this July 6, 2017, photo, able seaman Auvo Sinkkonen puts away life vests after a safety drill aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sails the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Thankfully, the icebreaker has all the safety equipment of a modern oceangoing vessel, plus some more because it works in such hostile waters. In a general emergency, such as a hole in the hull, the ship's alarm sounds eight times — seven short, one long.

If that happens, we're to grab one of the survival suits stowed beneath our bunks before heading for one of two muster stations on deck to don a life vest. The survival suit provides some measure of protection from the cold if you become immersed in freezing waters.
A survival suit is displayed aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sails through Lancaster Sound while traversing the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Monday, July 24, 2017. In a general emergency, such as a hole in the hull, those aboard would grab a survival suit stowed beneath each bunk and head for one of two muster stations on deck to don a life vest. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Next to each muster station is a lifeboat capable of carrying 82 people, one on each side of the ship. Even if one lifeboat were to fail, there would be enough space in the other for everybody on board.

The bright orange lifeboats are made of fiberglass, measure 31 by 11 feet and have provisions for more than a week at sea.
In this Sunday, July 23, 2017, photo, second officer Ilkka Alhoke, center, conducts a safety drill aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sails through Barrow Strait while traversing the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In a medical emergency, the ship has its own sick bay stocked with life-saving medicines and crew trained to perform first aid and stabilize someone who has suffered an injury or heart attack, for example.

There is a helicopter landing pad on the ship's bow. Because the Nordica doesn't have its own helicopter, one would have to fly in from land to pick up a severely sick person. This poses a particular problem in the central part of the Northwest Passage, which is hundreds of miles from any search-and-rescue station.
In this Thursday, July 6, 2017 photo, researchers Scott Joblin, from left, and Ilona Mettiainen, wear life vests during a safety drill with fellow personnel. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

If fire breaks out, crew members are trained to tackle the blaze themselves.

Self-reliance is key. Even if rescuers are dispatched, it would take several hours for them to reach the ship.

"We have to observe strict safety routines," says Nordica's first officer, Jukka Vuosalmi. "There is absolutely nobody who could help us if things go wrong."
In this Sunday, July 16, 2017, sea ice breaks apart as the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica equipped with enclosed life boats sails the Chukchi Sea to traverse the Arctic's Northwest Passage. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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