Coast Guard studies shipping lanes

By Dan Joling


ANCHORAGE, Alaska _ More Arctic sea ice melting each summer from global warming is making it easier for ships to plot routes through the environmentally sensitive Bering Strait, and is prompting concerns among U.S. Coast Guard officials about the potential dangers of a vessel crashing and leaking oil.

The Coast Guard is taking steps to plot a shipping route that will help the ships safely navigate the 53-mile wide waterway separating Russia and Alaska. Among the vessels slated to pass through the strait is a cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 passengers on a 32-day voyage next year through the Northwest Passage.

The federal agency has laid out a 4-mile wide route through the Bering Sea into the Arctic Ocean and is reviewing public comment on whether it should become the first commercial shipping lane along Alaska’s west coast.

“We want to really try to keep these large commercial vessels that we’re starting to see on an ever-increasing basis far enough from land, and we believe that we can do that with a route,” said Lt. Kody Stitz, a project officer in the agency’s waterways management branch.

Through 2015, Arctic summer sea ice has declined 13.4 per cent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado.

Cargo companies have not created polar shipping service between continents, but on the U.S. side of the Bering Sea, the Coast Guard is monitoring research missions, tour boats and shippers delivering goods to Alaska’s Arctic Ocean whaling communities.

In 2014, the Coast Guard counted 340 transits through the Bering Strait made by about 120 large vessels. That volume is not enough to generate a shipping lane study, Stitz said. However, the region is both ecologically sensitive and remote, he said.

“We don’t have good response capabilities. We don’t have a good salvage response up there. We have inadequate pollution-fighting equipment up there,” Stitz said. “If something were to go wrong, it really could compound itself.”

The agency doesn’t want a repeat of the Selendang Ayu, a 738-foot freighter that lost power, ran aground and broke in two on Dec. 8, 2004, on the north side of Unalaska Island in the Aleutians. It spilled 66,000 tons of soybeans and an estimated 350,000 gallons of oil.

Six of the 10 crew members died when a rogue wave crashed into a Coast Guard helicopter lifting them from the vessel. The helicopter crew was rescued. “We don’t want to see that happen in the Bering Sea, or further north,” Stitz said.

One of the vessels planning to transit the Bering Strait next year is the 820-foot luxury cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, which will travel from Seward, Alaska, to New York by way of the Northwest Passage, a route that winds through waters in far northern Canada.

The Crystal Serenity acknowledged the remoteness of its destination: passengers must carry a minimum of $50,000 in emergency medical evacuation insurance coverage. The cruise ship expects to move in ice-free water but will carry two marine pilots who can navigate through ice.

Crystal Cruises spokesman Paul Garcia said an escort vessel with ice-breaking capability and a helicopter that can scout for ice will accompany the ship on the trip that sold out within a month after online reservations went on sale last year.

“Safety is paramount with Crystal,” Garcia said. “We’re going to all extremes to make sure that our guests know we take it very seriously.”

The proposed shipping lane starts at Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, which sees upward of 5,000 transits annually, mostly cargo vessels operating between Asia and the U.S. West Coast.

The proposed Bering Sea route covers 730 miles, taking a path farther west of Nunivak Island and farther east of St. Lawrence Island than most ships use now. The route can guarantee that boats will be in at least 60 feet of water, Stitz said.

Environmental groups strongly encourage creation of the shipping lanes but want large vessels to safely pass environmentally sensitive natural features. For example, the Diomede Islands provide nesting colonies for nearly 7 million crested, least and parakeet auklets and other species, the largest bird concentration in Alaska, according to the groups.

The groups want a speed limit through the Bering Strait, a passageway for hundreds of thousands of animals that migrate from the North Pacific to the Arctic Ocean, including bowhead and grey whales.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants the proposed lane shifted west in the southern Bering Sea to protect endangered right whales. Others call for more study to determine if the lane overlaps with migratory routes of bowhead whales.

The Coast Guard hopes to complete its route study by next summer.


Canada: Why You Need Boat Insurance

By: Jonathan Lee |

Just as with driving a car, a certain degree of risk comes along with operating a boat. Safe boating practices and education help mitigate that risk but having – and thoroughly understanding – an insurance policy is your best form of protection.

Bertrand Rouault, Director of April Marine Canada, offers some insight into what boaters should know before shopping for a policy.

Q. How is marine insurance different from automotive insurance?

A. Unlike automotive insurance, boat insurance is not required in Canada. However it is strongly recommended. Boating is a wonderful experience but it also presents the risk of colliding with other vessels or docks, creating passenger accidents or injuring other people on the water. The incurred costs can be significant, and without insurance, you may end up paying compensation for a lifetime. Boats can also be stolen or you could be the victim of a shipwreck or a fire.

Another difference from auto insurance is the risk of getting a policy from an insurer without specific marine expertise or specialized nautical agents, which may result in boat coverage that leaves boaters exposed to greater risk.

Not as systematic and lesser known than automotive insurance, boaters may not even appreciate the importance of insuring their boats or personal watercraft.

Q. How much could insurance approximately cost me each year?

A. The amount of your premium depends on numerous factors, including the value of your boat (including trailer and equipment) and the age of your boat.

Discounts can also apply depending on several factors such as your age and if you taken recognized boating courses. Quick quotes for approximately determining the cost of a policy for your boat can be found on the insurance provider’s website without any obligation.

Q. Are there different types of marine insurance (liability vs. collision)?

A. Basically, two types of coverage are available: All Risk or Liability only. However, tailored coverage is available depending on the type and value of your boat and type of boating excursions your have planned. For example April Marine offers specific coverage for powerboats, personal watercraft and sailboats. Specific policies are available for high value boats (worth $ 250,000 or more). If you’re planning to sail south of 40th parallel or crossing the Atlantic, specific protection plans exist for these types of trips.

Q. What factors could make my policy more expensive?

A. Your premium may be increased if you’ve had a driver’s license suspension or depending on the number of claims that you have recorded in the past three years.

Q. What doesn’t a policy typically cover?

A. Things that are not covered are generally associated with the normal wear of the boat, including marks, scratches and bumps. This would also include damage caused by mechanical breakdown or dysfunction, corrosion, rust, dampness and weathering. Manufacturing defects and problems caused by ice and all extreme temperatures are not covered. Other things that would void a policy can include property illegally acquired, kept, stored or transported as well as property subject to forfeiture.

Q. What could a policy cover that’s worth paying extra for?

A. We recommend comparing the different offers on the market. The highest price and lowest premium isn’t always a guarantee of the best policy.

Your premium depends of the category of your boat and its total value including all equipment. The premium can also depend on your plans. If you sail in the south, the premium will be higher. An insurance premium is always based on the risk to the insurer.


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