Slow down, Baffinland tells cruise ships

·3 min read
A typical view from the Nattinak Visitor's Centre in Pond Inlet this summer included at least one cruise ship. (Submitted by Ernest Merkosak - image credit)
A typical view from the Nattinak Visitor's Centre in Pond Inlet this summer included at least one cruise ship. (Submitted by Ernest Merkosak - image credit)

Cruise ships have been travelling too fast near Pond Inlet, says Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

Baffinland has posted on social media every time it's noted a cruise ship going more than nine knots, which is the mining company's own speed limit for its contracted vessels. On Sept. 13, it posted about a cruise ship sailing at 13.8 knots — speeds it called "troubling."

"Baffinland documents and reports all marine violations, our ships included. The reason for our posts is not to shame or pass blame, but to raise awareness about the need for standardized regulations for all ships in northern waterways," said Peter Akman, Baffinland's head of stakeholder relations.

"Baffinland ships voluntarily adhere to restrictions such as a maximum speed of nine knots, and staying within an established shipping route, in order to minimize any potential impact on marine mammals and the environment as a whole."

In early August, Baffinland reported its shipping monitors had tracked a Norwegian passenger ship travelling at speeds of 11 knots and entering what the Twitter post said included several Inuit ecological "no go zones" and narwhal calving grounds.

Nansen Polar Expeditions replied to Baffinland's post, attributing the ship's speed and location to poor weather and saying they had been in touch with the community of Pond Inlet.

Located at the eastern entry of the Northwest Passage, Pond Inlet has seen about 20 cruise ships this summer.

Baffinland, whose port for the Mary River iron mine lies in Milne Inlet, about 100 kilometres away from the community of Pond Inlet, now receives alerts when any vessel in that area travels over nine knots.

Full-time Inuit shipping monitors based in Pond Inlet track and view vessels and provide daily updates, Akman said.

Shipboard monitors on MV Botnica include researchers, biologists and Inuit marine wildlife observers who record data on marine mammal locations and behaviour, other vessels, ice conditions and seabird observations, he said.

Baffinland works with community members, hunters and trappers organizations and hamlets to ensure that all concerns related to shipping activities are considered, Akman said.

Hunters in Pond Inlet have said shipping activity from Baffinland's Mary River Mine has a negative impact on narwhal numbers in the area.

While Baffinland has acknowledged the drop in narwhal numbers, the company has argued there's no clear proof its shipping activities are to blame as other environmental factors, such as changing sea ice conditions or new predator and prey dynamics, could be at play.

In an online document about its marine wildlife monitoring, Baffinland calls its current speed limit "a strong and conservative mitigation measure."

"To our knowledge, this continues to be the lowest nautical speed limit in Canada," said Lou Kamermans, Baffinland's senior director of sustainable development, in a June letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Meanwhile, Baffinland awaits a decision from Ottawa next week on its move to keep Mary River ore production at six million tonnes.

No speed limits for cruise ships in Canadian Arctic waters

Transport Canada does not regulate specific speed restrictions in Canadian Arctic waters, said Sau Sau Liu, senior communications advisor with Transport Canada.

That's although there is a "voluntary slowdown" in marine protected areas, particularly around the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam and the Tarium Niryutait in the western Arctic, Liu said.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators said its members are obligated to "always comply with local and federal speed regulations and other legally required environmental protection measures."

But the association does not have any additional regulations of its own regarding speed for cruise ships, said Anne Øien, the association's communications manager.

Pond Inlet lies in the heart of the Tallurutiup Imanga national marine conservation area.

As such, Kristin Westdal, science director at the conservation organization Oceans North, supports the call for speed reductions by ships travelling in and around Tallurutiup Imanga.

Westdal said all operators should slow down in an area that is a "sensitive and important narwhal habitat."

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association has not yet responded to a request for comment about the call for cruise ships to slow down.