Grounded cruise ship rescue in Nunavut cost Canada's Armed Forces $513K

It cost $513,025.44 for the Canadian Armed Forces' efforts to help 162 passengers and crew on the Akademik Ioffe, a ship carrying tourists and researchers that hit a rock late this summer, according to a Forces spokesperson.

Price tag doesn't include cost to coast guard, neither body seeks reimbursement from tour companies

The Akademik Ioffe was grounded near Kugaaruk, Nunavut, in late August. The Canadian Forces has estimated it cost over $513,000 to respond to the grounding and rescue passengers and crew. (One Ocean Expeditions)

For Arctic tourists, getting rescued after an expedition goes awry is no doubt priceless. But for Canadian taxpayers, keeping people safe can come with a hefty price tag.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces estimates it cost $513,025.44 for its efforts to help 162 passengers and crew on the Akademik Ioffe, a ship carrying tourists and researchers that hit a rock late this summer.

The amount does not reflect expenses incurred by the Canadian Coast Guard. Two of its icebreakers headed to the scene to offer assistance. 

A statement from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it does not "calculate and allocate costs on a case by case basis" because search and rescue tasks are part of daily operations.

"When it comes to helping and saving human lives, the Canadian Coast Guard does not seek reimbursement for costs," said spokesperson Holly Foerter in an email. 

But to get a closer look at how much is spent on rescue, Canadian Armed Forces Capt. Valérie Lanouette broke down the cost to send one military Hercules plane from Trenton, Ont., 14.5 hours to Kugaaruk, Nunavut.

Lanouette estimates the flight's operating costs at $6,500 an hour — and costs for rooms, meals and incidentals for the crew added up to $4,400 — a total of $98,650 for the use of one aircraft alone. A second Hercules, plus two helicopters on standby, were also sent to the territory.

The vessel was eventually refloated and passengers were safely transferred to a sister ship.

'It's a significant expense': Arctic expert

Michael Byers, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, suggests that policymakers consider asking tour companies to stick to major shipping routes or to start footing the bill for rescues. (Submitted by Michael Byers)

Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia professor who travelled on the Akademik Ioffe as a lecturer in 2011, said policymakers should consider asking tour companies to stick to major shipping routes or to start footing the bill for these rescues.

"This was not a serious incident," he said, but the "entire response costs money... it's a significant expense for Canadian taxpayers."

When it comes to helping and saving human lives, the Canadian Coast Guard does not seek reimbursement for costs.- Holly Foerter, coast guard spokesperson

Byers said he isn't suggesting individual people who need help should receive a bill in the mail afterward. But, in his view, tour companies in the Arctic Ocean turn their profit by taking risks and going into "sometimes poorly charted waters."

He said if the rescue efforts benefit not only passengers and crew, but also the company behind the trip, then "the question does arise if the company should indemnify the Canadian government for these expenses."

Billing could deter victims from calling for help

In a phone call, Lanouette said the search and rescue community generally agrees that there is "value" in keeping the service free for those who need it.

Lanouette also referred to the first volume of the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual, which she noted says that demanding reimbursement could "prompt those in danger to delay calling for assistance until it is either too late to save them, or until the resulting level of [search and rescue] effort needed is much greater."

Lanouette also said that because search and rescue is often a joint effort — with police, volunteers and different federal bodies getting involved — it would be odd for any individual agency to begin billing people it helped. 

CBC News asked One Ocean Expeditions, the tour company that operates the Akademik Ioffe, about passenger ship companies paying federal bodies for search and rescue, and for a breakdown of what insurance it has to cover emergencies. It declined to answer those questions.

A representative at NWT Tourism also declined to comment on whether tour companies should compensate the Canadian government for search and rescue efforts.