Danish admiral echoes Canadian calls to toughen Arctic shipping rules

A Danish admiral is adding his voice to Canadian calls for better safety regulation of Arctic shipping as recreational sailing and tourist cruises in northern waters reach record levels.

A Danish admiral is adding his voice to Canadian calls for better safety regulation of Arctic shipping as recreational sailing and tourist cruises in northern waters reach record levels.

Rear Admiral Henrik Kudsk of Denmark's Greenland Command told an international conference in Alaska this week there should be mandatory requirements for equipment and preparation before vessels are entitled to sail into the Arctic.

While the UN-sponsored International Maritime Organization has guidelines on those issues, ships are not required to follow them.

"No mandatory rules exist explicitly for Arctic or Antarctic navigation," Kudsk said in an interview.

"I need mandatory codes. I need certain rules that ships need to apply to operate in Arctic or Antarctic waters."

Kudsk's remarks, delivered at a conference in Fairbanks that brought together politicians and delegates from nations across the North and the European Union, come as more vessels than ever are plying the ice-choked and unpredictable waters off Greenland, Canada and Alaska.

A record 26 cruises are planned through the Canadian Arctic archipelago this summer. An all-time high of least eight private vessels are attempting to sail the Northwest Passage, although no one knows for sure how many.

Greenland's cruise ship activity expected to double

In Greenland, Kudsk said he's expecting 45 cruise ships carrying 55,000 passengers — a 60 per cent increase from last year.

No nation has enough search and rescue capability to deal with a disaster on ships of that size, Kudsk said. The best solution is to have those ships sail near enough to help each other out.

Kudsk points out that there have been three accidents involving cruise ships in the last two years in the Antarctic and said a similar accident in the North is only a matter of time.

"I fear it is only a question of time before we have an accident on our hands," he said.

Canadian Arctic experts from both military and civilian organizations have long made similar points.

"The danger of any kind of ship accident in the Arctic is we won't be able to clean up the mess," said Dennis Bevington, the New Democrat MP for the Western Arctic who attended the conference in Fairbanks.

Ensuring ships in the North are properly equipped and able to withstand ice would protect both lives and the fragile Arctic environment, he said.

"Our ability to clean oil spills is limited by the amount of ice in the water. It's extremely important that ships are well-equipped for Arctic conditions," Bevington said.

He repeated the call to make it mandatory for all ships sailing in the Canadian Arctic to register with the coast guard.

'We should start setting the rules,' Conservative MP says

While Kudsk was unwilling to offer advice to Canada, he pointed out that such registration is mandatory in Greenland and vessels that fail to register are fined.

New search and rescue aircraft for the North have been on the Canadian military's wish list for years. The Harper government, like the Liberals before them, have promised new airplanes but none have been delivered — or even selected.

Conservative MP Bob Mills, who was also at the conference, said his government is fine-tuning its response to the changing Arctic.

"We have just discovered the importance of the Arctic," he said, adding that money for the new planes has been budgeted.

Mills strongly supported Kudsk's recommendations on tightening regulations for ships sailing into Arctic waters.

He said he will urge his caucus colleagues to support such changes to Canadian law.

"It's only a matter of time that there's an accident," he said. "We should start setting the rules."