Report calls for risk mitigation for vessels in Canadian Arctic after ship grounded

·3 min read

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is calling for mandatory risk mitigation measures for vessels operating in the Canadian Arctic after a passenger boat ran aground nearly three years ago.

The vessel, the Akademik Ioffe, was grounded on rocky shoal in the western Gulf Boothia near Kugaaruk, Nunavut, with 102 passengers and 61 crew on board in August 2018.

It happened while it was chartered by Arctic expedition cruise company One Ocean Expeditions.

A report released Friday by the safety board said One Ocean's expedition leader changed the voyage's itinerary because of rough sea conditions on the morning of Aug. 28, 2018. The Canadian Coast Guard approved the change.

But the investigation found the boat went through a part of the Canadian Arctic that hadn't been mapped to modern standards, and where none of its crew had ever been. The vessel's master also used charts that were out of date.

"The area where the Akademik Ioffe ran aground is a very remote portion of the Canadian Arctic, normally covered in ice for much of the year, and has a short navigation season," the report states.

No one from One Ocean Expeditions immediately responded to a request for comment on the report.

With choppy waters, the report says the vessel's helmsman, who would normally act as a lookout, had to hand steer the vessel as it entered the narrows.

"No other crew were tasked with monitoring the echo sounders and keeping lookout. As a consequence, they did not notice the under-keel water depth steadily decrease."

The vessel then entered shallow waters where it sailed for more than four minutes before it was grounded. The investigation found the boat's alarm system to detect low water had been turned off.

"Before the occurrence, the master did not brief the crew regarding the revised voyage plan and the vessel’s proximity to shoal hazards," says the report.

The vessel sent out a distress message and two coast guard vessels were sent out to help the boat.

Around 11:30 p.m., the Akademik Ioffe was refloated. Passengers were transferred to its sister ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, early the next morning and taken to Kugaaruk.

According to the report, the Akademik Ioffe took on "extensive structural and hull damage."

Two fuel oil bunker tanks and two ballast water tanks were breached and flooded with sea water to their maximum capacity. As a result, 81 litres of fuel oil spilled into the ocean, covering about one square kilometre.

The board said the vessel's safety operations didn't meet the international standard and emergency procedures for the vessel being grounded didn't exist in the crew's manual.

The board also said the bridge team had been using an over-zoomed view of the narrows where the vessel was eventually grounded.

The board's investigation found there were communication gaps in how the crew informed passengers about what was happening.

"Many of the Akademik Ioffe’s passengers were immediately concerned when the vessel ran aground; they heard loud crushing noises and felt vibrations throughout the vessel," the report states.

But it says the boat's master did not sound the alarm because he thought it would create panic among passengers and interfere with the crew's response.

"Until the coastal waters surrounding the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are surveyed to modern or adequate hydrographic standards and, if alternate mitigation measures are not put in place, there is a persistent risk that vessels will make unforeseen contact with the sea bottom," the report states.

Three passenger vessels and one chartered yacht have been grounded in the Canadian Arctic over the last 25 years, the board said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

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