Members of the Healy science crew watch the Louis St.-Laurent's helicopter, which travels with the Louis,
do a fly-by, far, far from land
September 1, 2008
Apologies for the delays in posting, due to technical difficulties on this end.
What are all these ships doing here? or "Three’s a real crowd"
My last entry was Xinhua’s coverage of the Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, a Chinese research vessel. We saw her both on radar and with the naked eye (she was about 15 miles away). Folks who have sailed the Arctic Ocean many times said how exceptionally rare it is to see another vessel up here. Larry Mayer, our chief scientist, said he has never seen another vessel, other than for a pre-planned rendezvous. Many others echoed the same experience; that it felt very, very strange to see another ship in the Arctic.
So you can imagine the dismay on board at seeing two more vessels (on radar) in two more days. The first was the Louis Saint Laurent, the Canadian icebreaker that will join the Healy for the next leg of its journey. That was less of a surprise, although this was not a planned meeting. The Healy will break ice for the Louis, a smaller Canadian icebreaker, which will tow seismic mapping equipment. The picture shows their ship’s helicopter coming to check us out --- a little show of Canadian muscle, perhaps? Another fog-bow showed up about the same time they did.
The third foreign vessel spotted this week was the Mirai, a Japanese research ship that is "ice-strengthened", but not an icebreaker. The only sign we had of it, some 30 miles away, was its trail on our radar mapping system (all ships must broadcast their unique AIS code – automated identification signal).
This hard evidence of increased interest in the Arctic from non-Arctic states reflects the fact that, as it melts, the Arctic Ocean is opening up to more traffic of all kinds. The Arctic Council will soon issue the final version of its interim 2006 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment to provide some sense of the number of vessels plying the Arctic. The final report is expected in the fall of 2008. Until the interim report, nobody has really had a firm grasp on the number of non-military vessels in the Arctic Ocean.