View Full Version : Canada asserting sovereignty in Arctic

Helen Reyes
07-18-2010, 12:15 PM
As of July 1 Canada is requiring foreign vessels over a certain size to register before entering Arctic waters claimed by Canada. The US has consistently refused to recognize Canada claims extending to the geographical North Pole.


Disagreements about rules for the Northwest Passage
Saturday, July 17, 2010 17:48
By: Marianne Stenbæk

Canada has no right to regulate navigation through the Northwest passage, an international shipping association believes.

Canada has come up with new rules from 1 July. All commercial ships that will sail through the Northwest Passage must report to the Canadian coast patrol.

With the new rules, Canada will get information about who is sailing through, and also be able to monitor possible pollution.

The International Shipping Federation, the Baltic and International Maritime Council Organization BIMCO, representing around two-thirds of the world's ships, has officially complained to the Canadian government over the new rules, it told the Canadian press agency.

The association argues that Canada has not made the consultation with interested parties, and has no right to make such rules.

Canada believes the Northwest Passage is a part of Canada and believes it is fully within its rights to make rules and and a registering system for ships. But few other countries, including the U.S., agree with Canada on this issue, and they consider the Northwest Passage international waters where ships can sail when and where they want.

Canada believes new rules should be created, now that there is the prospect of more traffic through the passage because of ice melting in the area.

(google translated)

In the past the US has simpyl ignored Canadian claims and used the contested area of the Arctic as it saw fit, mainly as an area for submarines. Science magazine in the current issue is reporting the US icebreaker fleet is in disrepair:


Out in the cold
Nature 466, 295–296 (15 July 2010) doi:10.1038/466295b
Published online 14 July 2010

The parlous state of the US icebreaker fleet could soon put a freeze on the country's polar research.

On 25 June, the US Coast Guard announced that its only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Sea, was operational no longer. The ship had suffered 'an unexpected engine casualty' and limped back to its home port of Seattle, Washington, where it will undergo repairs until January 2011. A refurbishment in 2006 had supposedly extended its operational life to 2014. The announcement underscored the decrepit state of America's ageing icebreaker fleet — a situation with many troubling implications for the United States, not least its ability to carry out Arctic and Antarctic research.

The Polar Sea and its sister ship, the Polar Star — which is also in dry dock, undergoing a refurbishment scheduled to last until 2013 — are the only US ships able to cruise through ice up to 1.8 metres thick. Both are past their 30-year design life and are increasingly expensive to keep in repair. Yet no funds are available to replace them.

There is no mystery why. The Coast Guard's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is focused on terrorism. The Coast Guard itself is overextended by its responsibility to protect American territorial waters and US operations in the Gulf in the Middle East. And the US Congress, faced with the estimated US$2 billion replacement cost for both vessels, has routinely found sexier priorities for the money.

Yet icebreakers are essential for carrying fuel and supplies to the main US Antarctic base at McMurdo Sound, which in turn supports most of the American research activities on Antarctica. Icebreakers are also crucial at both poles to open the way for scientists to study water below the ice, including biological productivity and processes such as carbon cycling.

The good news is that the Polar Sea's breakdown will have little immediate effect on research. Since 2006, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has been leasing the Swedish heavy icebreaker Oden to keep McMurdo supplied. And the Coast Guard has been supporting Arctic science through its medium icebreaker, the Healy, ever since that ship was commissioned in 1999. The Healy can only cruise through ice up to 1.4 metres thick. But unlike either the Polar Sea or Polar Star, it has extensive built-in laboratory space and research instrumentation. In addition, the NSF operates two smaller research vessels with some icebreaking capability.

In the long haul, however, this make-do system is inadequate. Scientific interest in both polar regions is increasing rapidly — not least because of the profound changes being triggered there by global warming. And commercial interest in the Arctic Ocean is also growing as more of the water remains open for longer periods every year, and as pressure mounts for offshore oil and gas exploration. In that environment, the United States needs a robust, four-season, heavy icebreaking capability for essential duties such as supporting science, mounting rescue operations and helping to clean up Arctic oil spills.

This point has been made repeatedly in recent years by concerned parties such as the US National Academies, the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense's Pacific, Northern and Transportation Commands, all to little avail. However, a bill pending in Congress would authorize the Coast Guard to undertake a cost–benefit study of upgrading or replacing the nation's existing icebreaker fleet or of doing nothing.

Congress should pass that bill without delay. And polar scientists need to become active participants in the ensuing debates. They cannot expect a blank cheque; costs do have to be balanced against benefits. But they can try to ensure that the study includes a clear-eyed assessment of what the research priorities are, what icebreaking capabilities will be required to support those priorities and how to allocate costs and responsibilities between agencies such as the Coast Guard and the NSF.

Icebreaking is not a glamorous job. But it is essential to US interests and the long-term health of polar science.


2010-07-14 10:59 AM

Report this comment #11980
Anurag Chaurasia said:

We may not test fruits of Polar research efforts immediately. US congress should keep this in mind while evaluating cost/benefit analysis of pending bill. US admin. should support polar research especially the study of unseen, extremophilic microorganisms present in such habitates which may be boon for society.
Anurag chaurasia,ICAR,India,anurag@nbaim.org,anurag_vns1@ yahoo.co.in,+919452196686(M)

Incidentally, McMurdo and Ross both have access to Williams Field on the Ross Ice Shelf. Russian icebreakers have also served the Ross Island Dependency in the past. The National Science Foundation does administer the US bases in Antarctica, but the contract gives the legwork to Raytheon Polar Services in Colorado. I don't think the concern over icebreakers has to do with Antarctica, it's the Arctic, imo.