Earlier this month, the ice-strengthened bulk carrier Nordic Orion was loaded with coal at a Vancouver terminal. From there, it headed to Finland via the Northwest Passage, undertaking a voyage that could make it the first commercial bulk carrier to traverse the route since the SS MANHATTAN broke through in 1969.
MV NORDIC ORION
Built in 2011 in Japan.
225 meters long and classified as ice class 1A.
Can bring about 73,500 tons of coal on the voyage, which is about 15,000 tons more than an ordinary sailing through the low Panama Canal.
Source: Nordic Bulk Carriers
On the current trip, the Danish shipping company expects the ship would save $440,000 dollars in fuel on the trip, which is about 1,850 km shorter than via the Panama Canal. In addition, the Northwest Passage is deeper than the Panama Canal, allowing the freighter to carry 15,000 tons more coal.
Despite the apparent attractiveness characteristics of the Northwest Passage in relation to the Panama Canal, it is not yet decided whether Nordic Bulk Carriers will begin to use the route.
"We must speak with the Canadian Coast Guard and fix the window in time that we can sail the Passage each year," said Christian Bonfils.
The rest of the MV Nordic Orion's route will be south of Greenland and then across the North Atlantic to Europe.
Nordic Bulk Carriers has sent both the ship and crew through the Northwest Passage is of a different casting than normal. The people on board are used to sailing in ice and have ice knowledge. A Canadian ice pilot is aboard as standard practice. The tour has also been followed closely by the Canadian Coast Guard.
The ship MV Nordic Orion weighs 13,000 tons, of which about 3,000 tonnes are pure ice strengthening. The engine has 18,500 horsepower at an ordinary ship in the class 11,000 to 12,000 horsepower. All this has meant that the vessel has ice class 1A, which is the highest commercial grade of ice-strengthened ships.
Second ever cargo crossing of Northwest Passage overflows with environmental dangers
In a week when the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change is supposed to unveil its much anticipated fifth assessment report – which is not expected to bear good news – the Danish-owned vessel Nordic Orion set sail to become the second cargo ship ever to use the storied Northwest Passage as a trade route.Magnus Borgen, Charles Digges, 25/09-2013
The last journey taken by a commercian freighter through the inhospitable, ice strewn minefield was in 1969 – and not without reason.
“The journey for the [Nordic Orion] poses an enormous risk to the environment and set a highly detrimental predicent,” said Sigurd Enge, Bellona’s senior advisor on Arctic affairs.
Meanwhile, a leaked draft of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) that will is expected to be presented in Stockholm on Friday, promises to offer the most definitive statement from the panel yet that climate change is man-made.
It also says that global warming is starting to affect extreme weather events, such as flooding, drought, heat waves and wildfires. It additionally warns of a potential rise in sea levels that, by century's end, would drown many coastal cities in their current state of preparedness – problems tied directly to pollution of the Arctic.
The Nordic Orion is en route from Vancouver, Canada to Pori, Finland and, by using the Northwest Passage, its owners claim they will shave 1000 nautical miles off the vessel’s journey.
Media reports indicate that the ship has now exited the Northwest Passage, but Bellona’s reaction to the vessel’s route is strongly negative.
Dangerous lack of rescue capabilities in Northwest Passage
“These waters are highly risky to operate in,” said Enge. “If such a ship wrecks in these waters , we have neither equipment nor emergency infrastructe to clean up or conduct rescue operations.”
As reported by Toronto’s daily newpaper, The Globe and Mail, Canda’s rescue infractructure is notoriously undereequpped.
“Canada’s Arctic search-and-rescue capabilities are desperately poor,” the paper said. [Canada’s] long-range helicopters are based in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Labrador: Each aircraft would take more than a day to fly the 2,500 kilometers to the Northwest Passage, stopping to refuel along the way.”
There are, additionally, absolutely no ports in a storm for ailing vessels sailing the Northwest Passage: “Canada lacks a single port along the Northwest Passage in which a vessel could seek refuge in the event of mechanical problems or a serious storm,” the paper said.
Enge confirmed the remarks saying, “The Northwest Passage is even more remote in terms of preparedness than are the Russians.”
Russia’s Northern Sea Route has 16 deepwater ports, where the Northwest Passage has none, he said.
Navigation in the Northwest passage is also next to impossible, John Falkingham, an expert with the Canadian Ice Service, told the Nunatsiaq News, based in Canada’s Northernmost Nunavut territory, in an interview last month.
Falkingham told the paper that inadequate charts are the “single biggest issue in the Arctic,” saying only one-tenth of Canada’s Arctic waters are charted to modern standards.
Accidents can – and have – happened
The Globe and Mail also noted there were major concerns about the seaworthiness of the Nordic Orion in the ice conditions of the Northwest Passage.
“Although the Nordic Orion is ice-strengthened, Arctic storms, shallow waters and icebergs still pose risks. Small chunks of icebergs called “growlers” are extremely hard, float low in the water, and are difficult to spot,” reported the paper, and went on to detail a recent shipwreck caused by such low floating icebergs.
“In 2007, the ice-strengthened MS Explorer sank during an Antarctic voyage after striking a growler,” said the paper. It also added that ice coagulation on the top portion of vessels sailing Arctic waters could upend them.
“Then there is “icing,” which occurs when ocean spray freezes onto the superstructure of a ship, causing it to become top-heavy and capsize,” said the paper.
Ice conditions in Northwest Passage nearly unpredictable
Enge added that predicting ice conditions in the Northwest passage is all but impossible, where the Northern Sea Route offers at least some foresight.
“The fact that the Northwest Passage is replete with Islands, fjords and straits makes it impossible to have any forehand knowledge of the quickly-shifting ice conditions,” he said. “Along the Northern Sea Route you have a lot of clear water, so ice conditions are easier to predict.”
Bronx cheer for the Candian government
Enge says the news of the Nordic Orion shows that Canadian authorities are taking a page from Russia’s book on irresponsible management of Arctic waters and rewritting it to be even worse.
“Canada's international reputation as a responsible Arctic nation is at stake,” he said. “Even more regretable is the fact that Canada’s current chairmanship of the Arctic Council (the group uniting all nations with an Arctic border) provides a bad example for other Arctic countries on how to safely manage ice and environmental conditions.”
While some have argued that shorter ship voyages at sea along routes like the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route along Siberia’s northern coast produce an overall reduction in the carbon footprint from shipping, Enge flatly opposes that view.
“Emissions of soot from heavy oil [that powers ship] in the Arctic climate eliminates the benefits of choosing a shorter route,” Enge said. “Problems of soot in Arctic waters have a proven effect on the accelerated melting [the Polar Icecap]. Chosing shorter routes is therefore solely for profit at the expense of the environment and the climate. This form of risk transfer is the last thing the Arctic needs now.”
73,000 tons of metallurgical coal on the short route
The Nordic Orion was hauling 73,000 tons of metallurgical coal, used as an additive in manufacturing steel. The ship, because it was able to avoid the Panama Canal, was able to load 13,000 more tons of the cargo. Ruuki Metals of Finland is awaiting the delivery.
The Nordic Orion is a single hull ice class vessel certified to sail in icy waters. Its runs on heavy feul oil stored in bunker tanks in the hull, with only hull plates as a barrier to between the fuel and water outside.
The boat has a single hull with ice class , and is thus certified to go in icy waters. The ship runs on heavy fuel oil stored in the bunker tanks in the hull with only hull plates as a barrier between the oil and water outside.
With this voyage, the Nordic Orion is writing itself into the history books with a dirty pen. “The [ship’s owners] first considered trying to navigate the Northeast Passage, but finnaly chose the Northwest Passage,” said Enge who has followed the Nordic Orion’spossible itineraries.
The Nordic Orion is not the first cargo vessel that has attempted to ford the Northwest Passage. The oil tanker SS Manhattanconducted a test voyage in 1969 through the ice minefield to test the feasibilit of delivering oil between Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the US East Coast.
Retrofitted with an icebreaking bow for the journey, the vessel traversed the Northwest Passage with several changes of course for unforseen ice conditions. In Prudhoe Bay, it loaded one single symbolic barrel of crude and returned to the US East Coast under the escort of a Canadian coastguard icebreakers.
As a result of the journey’s difficulties, big oil reasoned that it would be easier to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez via the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.
Follow the journey of the Nordic Orion on Marinetraffic.com.
Foundering vessel in Arctic finally rescued by icebreakers, Russian maritime authorities not pleased by incident(18/09-2013)
Rescue plans for damaged tanker in Arctic unclear as Russian military flotilla steams by(12/09-2013)
Barents Summit opens as atmospheric pollution rises(04/06-2013)
Arctic Council adds six new observer nations, and signs agreement on oil spill preparedness(23/05-2013)
UN appeals to oil majors to leave the Arctic alone(20/02-2013)
More concrete solutions for soot in the Arctic needed, says Bellona(08/02-2013)
Russia taking on Northern Sea Route as Bellona raises alarm over Norwegian vessels under escort of nuclear icebreakers(12/04-2012)
Arctic ice cap melting at record speed(21/10-2011)
Norway, Finland and Russia come together on Arctic radiation safety(18/10-2011)
First supertanker through the Northeast Passage spotlights severe environmental dangers(01/09-2011)
Russian icebreakers escorting gas condensate ship to China, halving usual journey(18/08-2010)
Putin and Kiriyenko meet to discuss new nuclear icebreakers(17/10-2008)
Groundbreaking northern voyage almost foundered over insurance
VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 02 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
There was one potential snag – getting insurance for the unprecedented voyage.
“Imagine you’re sitting in my shoes and someone comes to you and says, ‘Hey, we’re going to put a ship through the Northwest Passage,’” Andrew Teasdale, a marine surveyor with multinational insurer RSA Group, said Tuesday in an interview. “Your immediate response would be, ‘Well, that’s incredible – that’s never been done before – do I just reject it, or do I make some inquiries and see what I can do?’”
RSA wound up underwriting the voyage of the Nordic Orion, a 225-metre, ice-strengthened vessel that left Vancouver on Sept. 6 and arrived at its destination in Pori, Finland, on Sept. 29. It was the first commerical bulk carrier to sail through the passage.
Before reaching an agreement, RSA flew a Canadian ice pilot to Denmark to review the route with the ship’s owners, Nordic Bulk Carriers, and also sent Mr. Teasdale along to assess the company’s management and expertise. Talks covered such issues as expected ice coverage, whale breeding and migration grounds and whether channels were deep enough to prevent the ship from running aground.
RSA provided hull coverage, which insures the physical ship. Other companies provided protection and indemnity insurance, which is commonly referred to as P&I and covers liability in case the ship’s owner is sued in the event of, for example, a spill of fuel or cargo.
Mr. Teasdale would not discuss financial details, saying only that the price was in line with a nearly new, ice-strengthened ship worth an estimated $80-million and featured a premium.
Insurance brokers said it could cost $100,000 or more to insure a ship in the class and size of Nordic Orion, and that traveling through the Northwest Passage could involve an additional premium of up to 30 per cent. RSA insured the passage on an “unescorted” basis, although the Nordic Orion was accompanied by the Louis S. St. Laurent, a Coast Guard icebreaker.
Transport Canada monitored the sailing and required the ship to check in daily with Nordreg, a Coast Guard agency, while it was in the Northwest Passage. The ship sailed out of the passage on Sept. 24 and arrived at its destination about a week later.
Nordic Bulk has said it was able to save about $80,000 in fuel costs by taking the passage instead of going through the Panama Canal. The route is about 1,000 nautical miles shorter and is about four or five days shorter; the ship was also able to carry about 25 per cent more coal than it would have been able to had it travelled through the more shallow Panama Canal.
RSA had safety concerns about the route, which has drawn attention as a potential commercial shipping route as ice cover decreased in recent years. But in investigating the route, RSA determined that there were spots for a ship to take shelter and that it was relatively accessible by helicopter, compared with, say, the open Pacific.
“It was something that really did concern us, but when you’re going to do something like this, your ship is of the highest standard and is chock-full of spares should anything go wrong,” Mr. Teasdale said.
RSA had previously insured Nordic Bulk vessels on the Northern Sea Route, which goes along the northern coast of Russia, so it knew the company had experience and expertise in Arctic routes.
But the biggest factor in the sailing might have been the timing of the Nordic Orion’s arrival in Vancouver. Had it been a week or two later, the passage might have had more ice on it and the short window might have closed.
“You had exactly the right point in the season and the right ship at the right time to let people push the ‘go’ button,” Mr. Teasdale said.