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TSB calls for vessel safety measures in Arctic waters

Last modified: May 21, 2021 at 10:18am


The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is calling for mandatory safety measures for passenger vessels sailing in the Canadian Arctic, following its investigation of a vessel that ran aground near the Astronomical Society Islands.

On Friday, the board released its safety investigation report on the grounding of the Akademik Ioffe, 78 nautical miles outside of Kugaaruk, Nunavut, in August 2018. The report concludes that voyages in the Canadian Arctic have “unique risks” – like areas that are not charted to modern standards, harsh climate, and limited local search and rescue resources – that require additional mitigation measures.

“Until the coastal waters surrounding the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are adequately charted, and if alternate mitigation measures are not put in place, there is a persistent risk that vessels could make unforeseen contact with the sea bottom, putting passengers, crew, and the environment at risk,” the report states. 

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The board is recommending that Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans develop and implement mandatory risk mitigation measures for all passenger vessels operating in Canadian Arctic coastal waters. 

The board says that since 1992, three passenger vessels and one chartered yacht have ran aground in the Canadian Arctic. In three of those cases, investigations found deficiencies in voyage planning or execution were “significant contributing factors.” 

According to the report on the Akademik Ioffe, on August 24, 2018, the vessel was sailing through narrows in a remote area of the Canadian Arctic where the crew had never travelled before. The report says the area had not been surveyed to modern standards and the crew were relying on charts with incomplete data so they considered the narrows safe and did not take additional precautions or add staff to the watch.

The Akademik Ioffe sustained “serious damage” to its hull and an estimated 80.51 litres of fuel oil was spilled. Photo: Transportation Safety Board of Canada

The report says the decrease in water depth went unnoticed by the crew for four minutes as the officer of the watch was multitasking and the echo sounders’ low water depth alarms had been turned off. 

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There were 102 passengers and 61 crew and expedition members aboard the Akademik Ioffe. The vessel sustained “serious damage” to its hull and an estimated 80.51 litres of fuel oil was spilled. No injuries were reported. 

The Canadian Coast Guard vessels Pierre Radisson and Amundsen and five Canadian Armed Forces aircraft were deployed to help the grounded vessel. The next day, passengers were evacuated and transferred to another vessel.

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