Norwegian replica of Viking ship sails into $400K in unexpected expenses

The crew of a replica Viking ship that sailed from Norway to Lake Erie says it might have to cancel the rest of its voyage because of an estimated $400,000 USD in unexpected expenses.

Crew recently found out vessel is subject to U.S. Coast Guard pilotage regulations

The 32-person volunteer crew of the Draken Harald sleeps outside on the deck under tents, as Viking explorers would have. (Draken Harald)

The crew of a replica Viking ship that has sailed from Norway to Lake Erie says it might have to cancel the rest of its voyage because of an estimated $400,000 USD in unexpected expenses.

Crew members on board the Draken Harald Hårfagre told CBC News they recently found out they will have to pay a licensed pilot $400 USD per hour to board the vessel and navigate it through the international waters along the Canada-U.S. border, in compliance with the U.S. Coast Guard's pilotage regulations.

"We are devastated, of course we want to continue," said Sarah Blank, a crew member on board the vessel, which bills itself as the "world's largest" Viking ship built in modern times. 

The Draken Harald Hårfagre left Norway on April 24 with a crew of 32 volunteer sailors, reaching St. Anthony, N.L., before sailing down the St. Lawrence River to reach Brockville, Ont. in late June. The ship is currently in Fairport Harbor, Ohio.

Blank told CBC News the crew was under the impression before the journey that the ship would not be subject to pilotage, since its less than 35 metres in length, which is the threshold for pilotage in Canadian waters.

But Robert Lemire, the head of the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority in Cornwall, Ont., said the rules changed once the ship entered American waters on the south side of Cornwall.

Trouble started in international waters

When it comes to pilotage regulations, the U.S. Coast Guard classifies the waters west of Cornwall, including the entire Great Lakes region — with the exception of the Welland Canal — as "international waters" because it "touches sides of both countries," Lemire said.

"As such, the Norwegian ship is required under American laws to avail themselves of a licensed pilot in all international and American waters of the Great Lakes," he said.

We don't have the budget to continue.- Source

Pilotage laws were originally established to make sure foreign commercial ships safely navigate waterways — which can be narrow, and contain islands or shoals — "to protect public interest, public infrastructure and the crew on board," Lemire said.

But the crew argues it's not a commercial vessel.

"We've been chasing the right information ever since entering the American waters," said Blank.

"In Brockville, we learned that we're not even able to move without a pilot on board and pay pilotage fees. And the pilotage fees are $400 USD per hour. And that means for us, that our budget is gone. Our funder stopped our expedition as of [Monday] because we don't have the budget to continue," he said.

Crew planned to finish trip in NYC

Blank said the crew "twisted, turned and bent" the budget a Norwegian business man gave them, so it could honour its commitment to be at the Tall Ships Challenge in Bay City, Mich. on July 15, where it expects the unique ship to be the "queen of the ball." 

The ship sailed from Norway in April, eventually reaching Newfoundland in June. (Draken Harald)

It was then supposed to continue on to Chicago, Ill., Green Bay, Wis. and Duluth, Minn., before eventually making its way to the Hudson River to head for New York City. 

Blank said that itinerary will cost them an estimated total of $400,000 in pilotage fees.

She said the crew is taking the situation "day by day," and heading back to Norway is a definite possibility unless it comes up with the money.