Monday, April 20, 2009

10 Questions With Fednav's Tom Paterson

The issue of Arctic shipping remains on the minds of many. Shrinking ice coverage, increased tourism, and the environment are all topics of conversation when you mention the Arctic. Amver is very happy that Mr. Thomas Paterson, Vice President of Fednav's Owned Fleet and Business Development division, took the time to answer some Arctic related questions for us. Tom does not shy away from telling things like they are. As an experienced mariner Tom sailed on many ships enrolled in Amver and participated in some rescues. On with the questions.

1. There has been considerable attention paid to the decrease of Arctic sea ice and opening of shipping lanes. Some have gone so far as to claim shipping through the Northwest Passage will become routine. Does sailing through the Northwest Passage really save time and money?

Well it depends on where you start the passage and end, but what really matters is what average speed the vessel will be able to maintain through Arctic waters which are ice infested. For example, a non ice class vessel sailing from New York to Shanghai in early August will save about 2,900 miles gonig via the NW passage (7.500) versus sailing through the Panama Canal (10,600), BUT as soon as the vessel gets North of 60 degrees North it is likely to encounter fog and then bergy bits and growlers. This is a huge risk to a vessel, particularly a non ice class vessel. The Collision Regs dictate that the vessel "Must at all time proceed at a safe speed, taking into account the prevailing circumstances and conditions." Certainly poor visibility with growlers in the area would mean the ship would have to slow down considerably, possibly even stop if the visibility is less than a ship's length. I would say that a non ice class vessel would be doing well to average about 10 knots from 60 degrees North to clearing Point Barrow to the West. Meanwhile the ship going through Panama is steaming at say 15 knots and has already sent his ETA to Shanghai, with much less risk of damage or delay. At the end of both voyages there will be very little difference in the arrival times, except the vessel going via the NW passage may have sustained some hull damage and had quite an adventure. There are also draft restrictions of about 12m-13m at the western side of Coronation Gulf.

2. Excluding resource exploration what is the demand for vessels in the Arctic? Is there enough demand to support increased shipping?

The demand at the moment is reduced as a result of the global economic crisis. When world markets rebound, so will the mining, oil, and gas projects in the Arctic region.

3. Are Arctic ports and infrastructure prepared for an increase in vessel traffic or Arctic tourism?

In my opinion there will not be a big increase in through traffic in the near future, perhaps a few ships per annum. With respect to ships exporting or importing cargoes within the Arctic, each new project will build their own port facility as required for the expected annual volumes.

4. Both the United States and Canada have limited ice breaking capability. What does government need to do to facilitate Arctic shipping? Is building more ice breakers enough?

Building new capable icebreakers would be a good start, but when will that be? For example, the issue of sovereignty in the Arctic is important to Canada; I think the Northwest Passage can be properly monitored by having icebreakers positioned around the Resolute Bay area in Canada. These icebreakers would need to be capable of operating all year round if required.

5. Arctic shipping poses unique threats. Are there adequate shore based resources to assist in a response to an emergency in the Arctic?

Again, I do not subscribe to the increase in traffic predicted by others. Shipowners will only transit if they can see good profits with an acceptable risk. Indeed there are a shortage of resources, but I think in this case the traffic will have to 'come before it is built', rather than 'build it and they will come'.

6. While several vessel tracking schemes are emerging many are dependent on satellite communications which may be spotty in the Arctic. Does an Arctic vessel tracking mechanism exist? Should there be compulsory vessel tracking in the Arctic?

I do not believe that a tracking system exists, but I cannot think of a good reason not to have one. There should be compulsory reporting for all vessels sailing in the Arctic- after all it is for their benefit as well as the authorities.

7. Fednav is a strong supporter of Amver. Would you suggest all vessels sailing in the Arctic participate in the Amver program?

Absolutely. It is common sense and doesn't take much time for the duty officer to file his report.

8. Sovereignty remains an issue in the Arctic. Will sovereignty issues hinder increased shipping? How is the Canadian government approaching the possible increase in vessel traffic and offshore exploration?

As far as Canada is concerned the traditional route through the Northwest Passage via Coronation Gulf is all Canadian waters and I agree with this. I really believe that a new icebreaker capable of year round navigation in the Arctic is the best solution for our Government. My understanding is this new vessel is now at the conception stage within the offices of the Canadian Government.

9. How quickly can conditions change in the Arctic? Couldn't an ice class vessel just slow steam and plow through the ice?

Conditions do change quickly and there are many factors to consider. It is not so simple as slowing down in some situations, especially in the mobile pack ice where the vessel pitching in a heavy sea state can result in shipping large pieces of ice on deck. Certainly in land fast ice the icebreaking type vessel can indeed plow through the ice and the wind has little effect in this situation.

10. This question comes from one of our search and rescue controllers. With limited rescue resources in the Arctic, particularly on the Western side, what sort of planning takes place to either prevent incidents or coordinate search and rescue efforts? Are there any industry/government partnerships?

All the vessels operating in the western Arctic are operating in the summer months only and their daily movements are closely monitored by the companies operating these vessels. It is rare to have only one vessel in an area and therefore vessels keep in touch with each other. The Red Dog operation in Alaska has 4 tugs in attendance from about July 1st until mid/lade October, so if there ws a marine distress/emergency in the western Arctic they could be asked to assist. Also most of the vessels operating in these areas are experienced operators and have planned thier voyages very well. I am not aware of any government/industry partnerships to cover distress situations.

Amver thanks Fednav and Tom Patterson for their participation in the Amver system and their willingness to answer 10 questions.

Fednav logo used with permission

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