Tag Archives: Canada

Navies, Narratives, and Canada’s Submarine Fleet

The following piece is cross-posted from our partners at the CDA Institute as part of an ongoing content sharing relationship. You can read the article in its original form here

CDA Institute guest contributor Paul Mitchell, a professor at Canadian Forces College, explores the question of narratives as it relates to Canada’s submarine fleet.

As HMCS Chicoutimi slipped silently into the depths of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I reflected on what many friends and family remarked when I told them of my opportunity to spend a day underwater on her: “are you crazy?” Indeed, this particular submarine made their concern all the more poignant. Chicoutimi, after all, is arguably the most infamous submarine in the fleet given the fire on its maiden voyage to Canada, an incident that cost the life of Lt. (N) Chris Saunders, repairs costing millions of dollars, and a long delayed re-​entry into operational service. The fire established a story that we had bought lemons from a used car lot.

Since the fire, the navy has had to fight against this very well established narrative. Along with the usual references to the West Edmonton Mall, such derision extends even into the intellectual realm. Professor Michael Byers regularly publishes critiques of the program under snappy titles like That Sinking Feeling. If you Google “Canadian submarine” and “boondoggle,” you will get the picture very quickly.

I shared neither of the qualms of my family, nor the derision of the critics. The dedication and professionalism of those who work beneath the waves is remarkable. The cramped quarters would challenge most of us. Passageways are similar to airplane aisles, requiring passing people to turn sideways and get closely acquainted with their physical features. The “racks” in which one sleeps are roughly the size of a coffin, with just as much headspace. Three toilets are shared by 48 crew men and women (four women proudly serve aboard Chicoutimi), and the mess, a space measuring roughly ten by ten feet, is the only spot where one might escape the demands of the work environment. The biggest space aboard her is the operations room, smaller than most people’s living room, in which a team of 15 to 20 people work. The stink of diesel fuel embeds itself into hair and clothing. Finally, the secrecy of submarine movements means that no one may reveal when they will be leaving or returning to port, thus complicating any sort of social or family life.

The constraints of life are dominated by rigid safety protocols followed religiously. Failure results in death. Once the hatches were locked down, a rapid roll call raced through the vessel to ensure that no one had been left outside: early in the last decade, such a procedure was not standard in another navy, and two submariners, forgotten in the conning tower, paid for it with their lives. Once underwater, a constant drone of contacts, distances, and bearings, as well as depth soundings echoed within the operations room to ensure that Chicoutimi neither hit the bottom, nor vessels sailing above. When you can’t look out a window and see where you are, your reliance on technical systems becomes paramount.

Telling the real submarine story is inherently difficult. To begin with, Canadians have a certain “sea blinded-​ness” and the navy is an “unseen service”: most live far from the coasts and the demands of protecting them does not resonate. Submarines’ inherent stealthiness and secrecy compounds this further. Last, while the navy has good public relations programmes that enable ordinary Canadians to visit its ships and even sail aboard them for a lucky few, similar opportunities with submarines are rare. For my day aboard Chicoutimi, I lobbied the navy relentlessly for about a year, and then had to wait a further 18 months for an opening to occur.

Still, the basic problem affecting the navy’s submarine story is its plot. The navy likes to focus on technical details of the submarines.

Compared with surface vessels, submarines are relatively cost effective in conducting surveillance given the enormous ranges that their sensors are able to surveil together with the small size of their crews. Furthermore, this surveillance can be done very discreetly, allowing submarines to operate undetected in sensitive areas. Canadian submarines have performed very useful roles in the Caribbean Sea monitoring the transit of drug shipments, passing along such information to surface vessels and aircraft for their physical interdiction. Submarines also were able to monitor illegal fishing by American vessels in Canadian waters, surprising a few with a radio transmission noting their activities. It promotes the notion of the “balanced fleet”: waterspace control requires operating in all three dimensions – above, on, and below sea level.

Such arguments ring cold for ordinary Canadians given the lack of connection these success stories have for day to day life. The durability of the narrative of dysfunction is frustrating. Thus, no sub news is good news for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). That may satisfy admirals running the day to day operation of the fleet, but it is short sighted when it comes to justifying and replacing these vessels.

In order to drive out the narrative of dysfunction, the navy needs to address the emotive angle: when Canadians call our submarines lemons, they do so not because they know this to be a fact, but rather they feel it to be so. The metaphor of the used car is an easy one to understand and resonates strongly. But our submarines, used though they may be, are so much more than that. A trip on a submarine is like going into outer space. The safety culture of space engineering share much in common with submarines: the environment of outer space is every bit as unforgiving as the undersea environment.

Similarly, there is a “cool” factor that stems from such high technology that has never been exploited by the RCN (although has been by the US Navy – witness films such as The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide). If the RCN wishes to change the narrative of its submarines, it must begin to think along these lines. Only then may ordinary Canadians begin to see these vessels, critical to modern maritime security, as something less dysfunctional, and something more relatable to their day to day lives.

Dr. Paul T. Mitchell is a Professor of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College, where he is the Director of Academics and the RMC Associate Dean of Arts (CFC). He is well published on submarine affairs: his very first academic publication in 1991 examined the issue of Strategic ASW and War Termination. (Images courtesy of Paul Mitchell.)

October Member Round-Up Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the October 2015 Member Round-Up, covering the second two weeks of the month. Over the past two weeks the U.S. freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea have dominated the attention of the maritime security community. Although the incident was a significant development in the region, CIMSEC members have focused on several other international maritime issues in addition to the FONOPS. These issues include Russian operations in the Middle East, Canada’s blue-water naval capabilities, strategic alliances in the Indo-Pacific and features of the U.S. Navy’s procurement strategy requirements.

Beginning the Round-Up at The National Interest, Scott Cheney-Peters discusses the necessity of U.S. FONOPS directed at China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. Mr. Cheney-Peters explains that the U.S. position was twofold; it was critical to uphold commonsense interpretation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea while also reassuring commitment to regional allies concerned with China’s growing military capabilities. Mr. Cheney-Peters also explains the FONOPS repercussions and implications in an article at Sputnik.

Bryan Clark is interviewed at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments concerning the U.S. Navy’s freedom of navigation maneuvers and the potential consequences of such operations. He explains the possibility that these U.S. operations may initiate FONOPS response equivalents off the U.S. West Coast from PLA-N vessels. However, Mr. Clark also notes that inaction would abandon sovereignty disputes over the artificial islands ceding the region to the Chinese, a circumstance at odds with regional U.S. interests.

China’s new airstrip built over Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea (CSIS image)

Mira Rapp-Hooper, at Lawfare, explains the U.S. FONOPS in the South China Sea through an international law context. The objective of her article is to outline the key legal and factual features of freedom of navigation while accurately describing the relationship between the military operation itself and maritime law. Also following a legal perspective, Alex Calvo for The Asia-Pacific Journal provides a comprehensive analysis on the ongoing legal dispute in the South China Sea. Mr. Calvo explains that the arbitration case currently being held in the Netherlands will contribute to the future dynamic of the entire South China Sea region and the ability for international law to resolve territorial conflicts peacefully and without recourse to military options.

Concluding the Round-Up’s discussion on the South China Sea FONOPS, James Goldrick at The Interpreter discusses the political and strategic need for Australia to assert freedom of operation throughout China’s artificial island network and its corresponding contested waters. Mr. Goldrick maintains that Australia should dispatch a naval force to operate in the vicinity of the Chinese artificial islands to demonstrate commitment to upholding international law and support for regional allied interests.

Darshana Baruah, at Offiziere, discusses the developing relationship in the Indo-Pacific between India and Australia. The article explains that the recent completion of the first bilateral naval exercises between the two countries indicates an aim to strengthen interoperability between their respective navies for the purpose of increased maritime security. Further to this, Ms. Baruah identifies the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and the rise of China as having contributed to geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, which has resulted in strategic opportunities for Indo-Pacific actors to collaborate in bilateral or multilateral arrangements.

Bryan Clark, before the House Armed Services Seapower and Power Projection Forces Subcommittee, argued that the U.S. Navy must increase development of advanced undersea systems to sustain American dominance in undersea operations. Mr. Clark explains that U.S. undersea warfare capabilities face the threat of being effectively challenged as a result of new detection technologies and quieter submarine fleets being developed by U.S. competitors.

To conclude Part Two of the October Member Round-Up, Ken Hansen for The Conference of Defense Associations Institute discusses the loss of Canada’s two primary logistical ships and the implications the loss will have on the Navy’s operations. Mr. Hansen explains that the decommissioning of the HMCS Preserver and the major fire onboard the HMCS Protecteur has entirely eliminated the Navy’s ability to conduct global force projection operations due to a lack of at-sea replenishment. Mr. Hansen explains that the Canadian Navy has acquired Spanish and Chilean logistical ships for temporary use for blue-water training operations and to maintain task group readiness throughout the logistical ship replacement process.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the second part of October:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar blog or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honours Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defence policy and management.

Where is Defence in Canada’s Federal Election?

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The following piece is written by the Conference of Defense Associations Institute’s David McDonough, and can be found in its original form here. It is republished with their permission.

On 2 August 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Governor-​General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament – and dropping the writ for what promises to be one of the longest election campaigns in recent history. As I write this, the election is now in full swing, with the first leaders debate having taken place a few weeks back (and an unknown number to go), all parties ramping up their fundraising and “ground game,” political ads increasingly dominating the airwaves, and still with almost two months to go.

All three major political parties (Conservatives, NDP, Liberal) have already staked out different positions on key security and defence issues. The Conservatives have now promised to expand the Reserve Force from 24,000 to 30,000 personnel in its next mandate, which represents a return to its original 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy promise, albeit at a much quicker rate. The Liberals, on the other hand, have pledged $300 million annually for military support programs, including lifelong pensions for injured veterans.

Of course, it remains to be seen if the next government’s funding envelope will increase sufficiently to fulfill either campaign promise. Interestingly, rumours already abound that the NDP may soon propose a small increase in defence spending, which would represent an important turnaround for a party historically ill-​inclined towards national defence and overseas military operations. But whether such rumours materialize as campaign promises, and are actually acted upon, is more uncertain.

Yet what is most noticeable about the campaign so far is that defence has been a relatively quiescent topic – a fact that many informed commentators have noted. Even in the 2011 election, political leaders were quick to raise the issue of Canada acquiring the controversial F-​35 aircraft (or, in the case of the government, to defend that decision).

Today, the government faces an even more uncertain procurement record – not least when it comes to fleet replacement for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), evident in the continuing delays in the acquisition of major surface combatants, Arctic ships, and supply ships.

Members of Her Majesty's Canadian Ship SASKATOON carefully maneuver the ship around a large piece of ice while travelling through the Amundsen Gulf on August 22, 2015 during Operation NANOOK. Photo: Cpl Donna McDonald, AETE Imagery Data Systems. ET2015-5751-04
Members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship SASKATOON carefully maneuver the ship around a large piece of ice while travelling through the Amundsen Gulf on August 22, 2015 during Operation NANOOK.
Photo: Cpl Donna McDonald, AETE Imagery Data Systems.

Indeed, some worrisome gaps in naval capabilities have now emerged, given the decommissioning of its supply ships (sorely needed for the RCN’s blue-​water operations) and destroyers (with their crucial command and control and area air defence capabilities). The sole remaining destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, was damaged in a storm earlier in the year and is currently being repaired in Halifax. But some say the ship is no longer seaworthy, and even with repairs, few people expect it to remain operational for long – perhaps not even until its planned retirement in 2017.

The procurement problems might be most acute for the RCN, but they are far from confined to naval matters. One need only look at the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) fighter-​aircraft replacement. Several years after announcing the F-​35 with great fanfare, we appear to be no further along in selecting (let alone procuring) a replacement aircraft for our aging CF-​18 fighters and the government continues to meagrely extend the life of its current air fleet.

Fortunately, we have had some recent good news on procurement, such as the long-​delayed acquisition of the CF-​148 Cyclone maritime patrol helicopter and the commissioning of an interim supply ship to be built at Davie Shipyard (as well as leased ships from Spain and Chile to handle refueling along the east and west coasts, respectively). Furthermore, the successful HCM/​FELEX modernization of RCN frigates, which will entail crucial command and control upgrades and improved air defence systems, partially compensates for the loss of our destroyers.

Yet such announcements do little to hide the many procurement failures over the past several years. The government even seems to have tacitly accepted such a criticism, as shown by their efforts to fix defence procurement with the 2014 Defence Procurement Strategy, although little in the way of concrete evidence on improved efficiency and effectiveness has resulted.

To be sure, it is still very early in a rather extensive election campaign. As such, discussion on the absence on defence issues seems premature. The Munk Debate between political leaders scheduled for September will focus on foreign policy, and one would expect that defence procurement and the country’s broader security policy will be discussed in more detail. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals have put out their own defence policy platforms, and both will likely speak more openly about such issues once their platforms are finally released.

Even then, however, defence issues will likely remain far from the forefront of policy platforms in this election. Simply put, as important as such issues may be, elections are almost never won or lost on defence, national security, or foreign policy in Canada – as all political parties are well aware. It is the economy that has been the pivot by which elections are often determined, even if a case can be made that security and defence should then be a close second. However, one needs to go back to Diefenbaker’s defeat in 1963 for the last time such issues took centre stage in Canada.

On top of that, as Steve Saideman has recently said, 2e1ax_vintage_entry_maclean-s-election-debate-1“[n]one of the three parties are going to want to actually talk about this.” The Conservatives are unusually weak on the defence procurement file, so it is only natural that they would prefer to focus on other issues. The NDP might be keen to criticize the government’s handling on this issue. But their supporters will likely be wary of the party drifting too close to the military, especially in light of the more centrist positions the party has staked on economic matters in recent months. And the Liberals have their own historic baggage, given that it was under Jean Chrétien that many of the challenges facing the Canadian Armed Forces began to mount.

Still, if it was only a question of procurement management, both the NDP and Liberals would likely show greater emphasis on this issue, especially as it does not reflect well on the Conservative claim of being competent and sound managers of government. But, as the Parliamentary Budget Office notes, the real challenge facing Canadian defence policy and procurement is a financial one – specifically a budgetary shortfall of between $3342 billion, which ongoing procurement delays and management issues have increased. Consequently, it is likely that neither opposition party will be eager to address such an issue; not the NDP, which have never been close to the military and are now eager to show their fiscal bona fides, and not a Liberal Party currently reminding the electorate of their past stewardship of the economy.

In that sense, the absence of defence issues in this election really comes down to a question of money. Simply put, addressing defence challenges requires a greatly expanded defence budget (or at least a significantly altered force structure, which might no longer be “multi-​purpose” or indeed “combat-​capable,” if one is not careful). And it is likely that no political party would be willing to countenance such a prospect.

The Conservatives would prefer to offer promises of significant funding in the future, with no guarantee such a promise would be kept. If rumours are to be believed, the NDP might accept a minor increase in funding – although this will likely result in a modified force structure geared towards less combat-​focused operations, as described in a recent Rideau Institute-​CCPA report – and which I have criticised elsewhere (here and here). It remains to be seen what approach the Liberals will ultimately pursue, but it is difficult to be optimistic.

Political parties focus on getting votes. And unless voters cast their ballot on issues on security and defence, such matters will remain of secondary (if not tertiary) importance. This is an unfortunate situation. It would certainly behoove politicians to treat such issues with both thought and seriousness, as part of their responsibility to safeguard the country and its citizens. And, given the sizable number of serving and retired military personnel and their families, many of whom still pay close attention to such issues, they might even find an unexpected electoral benefit of treating security and defence like a statesman rather than a politician.

Of course, if the past is any indication, I also don’t really expect things to change any time soon. It is not without reason that Winston Churchill stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

This article originally featured at the CDA Institute and can be found in its original form here

David McDonough is Research Manager and Senior Editor at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, and a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. He received a PhD in Political Science from Dalhousie University in 2011. He tweets at @DS_McDonough. (Candidate Image courtesy of Mark Blinch/​Reuters; Images of Vessels courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy webpage).

Polar Shipping: A 2014 Recap

By Captain David (Duke) Snider, FNI FRGS
The year 2014 was indeed one of intriguing activity in the Polar Regions. The maritime world and public in general began the year captivated by the almost hourly updates from the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, captive in the Antarctic Ice.  
Antarctic CaptivityIt certainly wasn’t the first time a ship had become beset in polar ice conditions, nor will it be the last. What caught the attention of the world was that modern technology and the thirst for a moment in the spotlight prompted regular Internet postings by blog and other means highlighting the “plight” of the ship from several onboard.  French and Chinese light icebreakers attempted to close the distance between open water and the beset ship but could not get sufficiently close to break her out. Even the United States Coast Guard’s Polar Star was diverted to assist. The decision was then made to fly a helicopter from the Chinese ship Xue Long to repatriate the hapless high paying passengers and “science party”. A short time later, having never declared a distress, and knowing the ice conditions would change, the Master and crew steamed clear of the ice under their own power. In the end, the Australian government shelled out nearly $2m Australian in “rescue efforts”. Shortly after the Akademik Shokalskiy steamed clear of the ice, the Russians felt the situation had been so distorted as to its danger in the press that a formal statement was made at IMO making it clear that the Akademik Shokalskiy and her crew were well suited to the conditions, and at no time in danger and that the Master of the vessel did not declare distress.

The Polar Code

The playing out of the Akademik Shokalskiy incident became a backdrop for more frenzied efforts at IMO to finalize drafts and meet Secretary General Koji Sekimizu’s desire for a mandatory Polar Code as soon as practicable.  

Throughout 2014, various committees, sub-committees and working groups struggled to finalize consensus-based drafts of a Polar Code; however, the Secretary General’s strict timetable demanding an adoption before 2017 unfortunately resulted in the gradual streamlining of the initial robust drafts. In order to meet the timelines set down, issues that were remotely contentious or not subject to almost total consensual agreement were watered down or omitted.  

Many parties were disappointed to see a much weaker document evolve into what was finally approved by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in November. Others leapt to declare a new age of safety and environmental protection for Antarctic and Arctic waters. 

Come the end of 2014, the Polar Code was still some way from actualization. The entire Part II – Prevention of Pollution must still go through the Maritime Environmental Protection Committee adoption, then the Council must approve both parts submitted by MSC and MEPC. Still, given the SG’s direction, there will be a mandatory Polar Code in existence by the first of 2017; however, it will not be the powerful and robust direction it was originally envisioned to be.  

As a result, many classification societies and flag states are already issuing “guidance” to close gaps that have been left by the leaner “more friendly” Polar Code. The Nautical Institute is moving forward with their plans to put in place an Ice Navigation Training and Certification Scheme to meet basic requirements of the human element chapter of the Polar Code with defined standards of training and certification.

Ice Conditions

Climatically, 2014 was more in line with 2013 as a heavier ice year overall in the Arctic this summer. This followed a particularly bad year in the North American East coast, where heavier ice trapped ships and lengthened the icebreaker support season into May. In the Arctic, conditions were much tougher than the low record years of the past decade that led up to the last two. No one with any real understanding of global climate change would suggest that 2013 and 2014 can be held as the “end of global warming”; however the variability experienced shows that it will not be easy-going for polar shipping in the near future and that ice conditions will continue to wax and wane.

Polar Traffic

Traffic in the Polar Regions still has not met the expectations of some over-optimistic forecasts. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) experienced a dramatic reduction in traffic this year. Less than two dozen full transits were reported and initial figure indicate only 274,000 tons of cargo moved compared to 2013’s 1,356,000 tons. Though ice conditions in the NSR were somewhat more difficult in 2014, conditions were heavier in the Canadian Arctic. 

Notably absent this year was an expected repeat Northwest Passage transit by Nordic Bulk after their landmark Nordic Orion voyage in 2013. Fednav’s latest arrival, MV Nunavik, did however make a westbound transit late in the season.

Routine destination traffic, which includes the resupply of Arctic communities and export of resources, continues to show incremental increases in both the NSR and Northwest Passage (NWP). However there has been some cooling of interest in hydrocarbon exploration over the past year, whether it is as a result of sanctions against Russia for their activities related to Ukraine, or uncertainty of regulatory environment in American waters.  

In the Antarctic region, traffic statistics remain static, driven mainly by research, resupply of research stations and the occasional adventure cruise vessel.

Ice Ship Orders and Construction

The growing interest in polar ice shipping is being felt in ship orders and construction. Numerous ice class ships are on the order books, and some notable orders and deliveries are those of Nordic Bulk with their Baltic ice class new builds and Canada’s Fednav with delivery of their newest icebreaker cargo ship Nunavik. The latter made news with the first unescorted commercial cargo vessel transit of the Northwest Passage this summer.  

Russia has announced and commenced the construction of their new design conventionally powered icebreakers as well as three LK60 nuclear powered icebreakers. Russia is also building a number of icebreaking search and rescue vessels to meet their commitment to increase SAR capability after wholeheartedly embracing the Arctic Council’s 2010 Arctic SAR agreement.  

At the beginning of the year, Russia took possession of the novel oblique icebreaker, Baltica.  Shortly after delivering the Baltica, Finland’s Arctech Helsinki Shipyard announced a contract to build three icebreakers for the Northeast Sakhalin oil and gas field. Perhaps the largest Russian driven high ice class construction is the DSME designed 170,000m3 icebreaking LNGCs to be built for LNG export from the new Yamal field. These ships will be operated by a number of companies including SOVCOMFLOT, MOL and Teekay over the life of the Yamal project. A fleet of six support icebreakers for port and channel clearing, as well as line support in heavier coastal ice will also be built. Three more ice class shuttle tankers were ordered from Samsung Heavy Industries by SOVCOMFLOT for delivery by April 2017.

China is building a new icebreaker to complement their secondhand Xue Long, delivery in 2016; Britain has begun the work to acquire a new 130m icebreaker for delivery in 2019; Australia intends to replace the Aurora Australis hoped for by 2018 with the bidding narrowed to three contenders in the fall; Germany is not far behind in plans to replace the venerable Polar Stern; and, Finland has a new Baltic LNG fuelled Icebreaker under construction and has announced a billion Euro plan to replace their current fleet of icebreakers in coming years. 

India has also announced plans to build a polar research icebreaker to be operational before the end of the decade. Columbia has announced plans to build and send an ice-capable research ship to Antarctica while Chile’s president announced in December plans to build an ice-capable research ship for Antarctic service as soon as practicable.

Though the American built light icebreaker research vessel Sikiluaq entered service this past year, the United States and Canada continue to be mired in indecision or delays with respect to ice-capable ship construction. There are no clear plans to consider replacing the ageing United States Coast Guard’s polar class ships, and Canada’s much vaunted announcement of the acquisition of the new generation polar icebreaker, which was named by the government as the John G. Diefenbaker, has seen cost increases and delays in delivery. The original delivery of 2017, for the Diefenbaker has slid to the right, first to 2020 and now rumored to be 2022.  Reports now indicate the original construction cost of $750m CDN has climbed to well over $1.2B CDN. Given the advancing age of Canada’s venerable icebreaking fleet, it is surprising that only one replacement has been approved.  

The Royal Canadian Navy’s plans to build 6-8 ice-class Arctic Offshore Patrol vessels has experienced similar cost overruns and delays even before steel has been cut. News reports at the end of 2014 indicated the number of ships that could be obtained would likely be fewer than originally announced, and only three vessels could be built for the allocated budget.

Changes in Arctic Offshore

Russia’s almost frantic growth in Arctic exploration and exploitation over the past decade has taken a downturn in the past months. As a result of increasing sanctions put in place by European Union, the United States and other nations, and the rapidly dropping price of oil in the last weeks of 2014, Russia has either seen the gradual pulling away of western partners, or has terminated contracts themselves (such as the recent termination of contracts with Norwegian OSV operators), and reduced projections for hydrocarbon export. As a result, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities in the Russian Arctic began to slow in the latter part of the year.   

In the midst of pullbacks from exploration, Russia has continued to bolster their Arctic presence, opening the first three of ten Arctic search and rescue centers in 2014, taking delivery of the first of six icebreaking search and rescue ships and increasing naval presence capability.

Risks Remain Evident

Just as the situation with the Akademik Shokalskiy indicated in the Antarctic in the beginning of the year (in the latter part of the Antarctic shipping season), an incident with a Northern Transportation Company Limited barge adrift in the Beaufort Sea at the end of the Arctic shipping season highlighted the remote nature of polar shipping operations.  In each case, the situations were exacerbated by the lack of nearby rescue resources. While the Akademik Shokalskiy eventually broke free on her own, the NTCL barge was left to freeze into the ice over the winter as the tug initially towing was unable to reconnect and no other resources were close enough to recover the nearly empty fuel barge.

Discovery of the Wreck of HMS Erebus

One long standing search and recovery mission did result in a very successful search this year as the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier and onboard researchers from Canadian Hydrographic Services and Parks Canada discovered the well preserved remains of Sir John Franklin’s flag ship HMS Erebus in the waters near to King William Island in the Canadian central Arctic.  

Under command of Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and Terror set out from England in the mid 1800’s in what was thought to be the most technologically advanced and therefore “bound to be successful” effort to discover and sail the Northwest Passage. Tragically, both of Franklin’s ships became hopelessly trapped in the ice, the crews eventually abandoned both vessels and were never seen alive again. Most of the Canadian Arctic was charted in the many searches at sea and from ashore in search of survivors, many relics were discovered including a note that described the abandonment, but the vessels themselves remained lost until this summer when HMS Erebus was discovered.

This post originally appeared in The Maritime Executive.