NTCL barge adrift in Arctic ice now off Russia's coast

A barge owned by Northern Transportation Company Ltd. that went adrift last fall on its way to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., is now off Russia's northeast coast.

Tracking device put on barge shows it is currently about 42 km away from Russia, spokesman says

A barge owned by the Northern Transportation Company Ltd., shown here adrift in the Beaufort Sea last fall, has now reached Russia. (Submitted by U.S. Coast Guard)

A barge owned by Northern Transportation Company Ltd. that went adrift last fall on its way to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., is now off Russia's northeast coast.

Ed Page, who is with the Marine Exchange of Alaska, says a tracking device put on the barge shows it is about 42 kilometres away from Russia.

"It's doing extremely well for a vessel that doesn't have its engine on or a crew," he said. "It's avoiding all hazards and moving along at a pretty good clip."

The barge broke away from its towboat in October as it was returning to Tuktoyaktuk after delivering supplies to a remote site along the Canadian coastline. It is unloaded, although it is carrying 3,500 litres of light diesel in fuel tanks.

No tugboats were available to rescue the barge that late in the season, and it became stuck in ice. NTCL had a GPS tracker dropped onto the vessel and has been following its movement, along with the State of Alaska and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The barge has so far travelled about 2,200 kilometres.

"It would go west for a while, north for a while. It's been described as a drunkard's walk," said Mark Serreze, of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

A tracking device aboard the barge shows it's travelled about 2,200 km and is now about 42 kilometres away from Russia. (Submitted by Marine Exchange of Alaska)

'Third World management'

NTCL says it will rescue the barge in July, but if it doesn't, currents could bring it crashing into the Russian coast, or take it deeper out into the Arctic ocean.

"Typically what would happen is it would get caught up in the trans-polar drift stream, where the motion of ice is kind of away from the Siberian coast out into the Central Arctic ocean," said Serreze.

"Now if that were the case, eventually this thing would come out the other side of the Arctic on the Atlantic side … maybe though Fram Strait between Greenland and Spitsbergen. But again, it will depend on what the weather patterns are."

Serreze says they've been getting some "crazy weather patterns in the Arctic as of late."

Edward Struzik, a fellow at Queen's University and author of Future Arctic, says the case of the drifting barge shows Canadians are unprepared to manage future Arctic shipping routes.  

"It's comical watching it, in a sense, but I think there's a more serious aspect to this," he said. "This barge has been migrating helplessly into American waters, and now into Russian waters, and really we are helpless to do anything about it.

Struzik says while forecasts show more volatile shipments will be moving through the Arctic in the coming years, "we still don't have the infrastructure: the icebreakers, the clean-up technology, and the ports with which to deal with a potential disaster.

"It's Third World management of a growing economic region."


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