Tabletop Review for Crystal Serenity's Arctic Voyage

Iceberg in Baffin Bay, Canada
Baffin Bay

Published Mar 6, 2016 10:08 PM by Wendy Laursen

An international mass rescue tabletop exercise will be conducted in April to discuss coordinated response procedures to a simulated incident on board the Crystal Serenity

The Crystal Cruises’ vessel will sail from Alaska, through the Canadian Arctic to Greenland and then New York with 1,050 guests and 650 crew members on board this August.

Participants in “Northwest Passage” will include the U.S. Coast Guard, Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, AK State Emergency offices, Crystal Cruises and North Slope Borough.  

The major focus of the exercise will be to review existing capabilities and limitations to Arctic emergency response and to review the Crystal Cruises northwest passage emergency response plan.

During the northern summer season, the U.S. Coast Guard will strategically deploy Coast Guard cutters and aircraft throughout the Arctic as part of Arctic Shield 2016. This includes deploying two MH-60 helicopter crews and ground support personnel to a Forward Operating Location in Kotzebue from July to October 31, says spokesperson Kip Wadlow.

“The Coast Guard does not have plans to conduct routine or scheduled communications with the Crystal Serenity at this time,” says Wadlow. “However, we do monitor vessels operating in the Arctic using statutory communications equipment which includes the Automated Identification System. The Coast Guard will also be conducting scheduled Arctic Domain Awareness flights.”

Ensuring Safety

The typical conditions along the planned route during the Arctic summer are substantially free of ice, says Crystal Cruises. Although the hull of Crystal Serenity is not strengthened for ice, the company has taken many extraordinary operational and equipment-related measures to ensure a safe voyage.

An escort vessel will accompany Crystal Serenity. The escort vessel will have ice breaking capabilities and would be able to assist in the unlikely event that the ice concentration becomes a challenge for Crystal Serenity. Further, Crystal Cruises will be working very closely with the Canadian Ice Services to monitor ice conditions to ensure they remain safe for transit.

The escort vessel will carry oil pollution mitigation gear to supplement that which Crystal Serenity always has on board. It will also carry additional response and damage control equipment and personnel specifically trained in its use. A helicopter is planned to be carried on board the escort vessel to allow for real time ice condition reconnaissance, external medical assistance or evacuation and logistics support.

Additional precautions include:
•    A full expedition team, experienced in the Northwest Passage, will be on board to advise and work with the captain and onboard management on the transit. 
•    Additional officers will join the bridge team for the voyage, and they will receive additional training specifically focusing on polar navigation.
•    Crystal Serenity will have its bridge team augmented by two highly experienced pilots each with several decades of experience in the Northwest Passage. In this, the company is exceeding the standard protocol, as other commercial vessels normally operate with only one. Having two ensures there is an experienced pilot on the bridge 24 hours a day.
•    Two ice searchlights, a high resolution radar and other equipment to scan the waters will be installed just for this voyage to allow the vessel to scan the waters ahead both on the surface and below, looking for underwater obstructions or uncharted rocks. Few commercial vessels have this technology, and it will ensure Crystal Serenity has the most advanced technology available to avoid unexpected ice or underwater terrain that could otherwise be an obstacle.
•    A diver who could assist with emergency response will also be part of the expedition team.

More Voyages Planned

The vessel will return to the Northwest Passage in August 2017. “We are thrilled to offer intrepid luxury travelers a second opportunity to explore this historical sea passage,” said Crystal’s CEO and President Edie Rodriguez. “Given the tremendous response to our inaugural Northwest Passage sailing in 2016, it’s clear that discerning travelers continue to value rare and memorable experiences as much as they prize unmatched luxury.”

Following in the footsteps of intrepid explorers, the journey through once-unpassable waterways employs new or enhanced approaches to itinerary scheduling, destination visits, onboard offerings, and safety standards, says Crystal Cruises.
2017 Ports-of-Call: Anchorage/Seward, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, and Nome, Alaska; Ulukhaktok, NW Territories; Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet, Nunavut; Ilulissat, Sisimiut, and Nuuk, Greenland; Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island, and New York.

Waterways: North Pacific Ocean; Bering Sea & Bering Strait; Chukchi & Beaufort Seas; Amundsen Gulf; Dolphin & Union Strait; Coronation Gulf; Dease Strait; Queen Maud Gulf; Victoria Strait; Larsen Sound; Franklin & Bellot Straits; Peel Sound; Parry Channel; Barrow Strait; Prince Regent Inlet; Lancaster Sound; Croker Bay; Navy Board Inlet; Eclipse Sound; Baffin Bay; Davis Strait; Labrador Sea; North Atlantic Ocean.

Enhancing Safety Through the Polar Code

Crystal Serenity’s 2016 voyage is pioneering. Beginning August 16, 2016, Crystal Serenity will be the largest luxury cruise line to ever navigate the route, maneuvering through 900 miles of majestic waterways lined with spectacular glaciers, towering fjords, and vast unspoiled landscapes away from mainstream civilization and tourism, north of mainland Canada, says the company.

In the longer term, Arctic cruising is expected to increase, and the IMO Polar Code is anticipated to enhance the safety of such voyages.

While the Polar Code does not go into effect until 2017, there are voluntary polar guidelines approved at IMO in 2009 that can be used by companies in the interim. 

“We highly encourage voluntary compliance with the polar code provisions prior to 2017,” says Sarah Janaro, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard. “The Polar Code standards were developed in consideration of hazards and conditions unique to the Polar regions and an expected increase in traffic in Arctic and Antarctic waters. These additional hazards include navigation in ice and low temperatures, high latitude communications and navigation, remoteness from response resources, and limited hydrographic charting. 

“The Polar Code raises the safety standards for commercial ships operating in or transiting through Arctic and Antarctic waters as well as enhances environmental protection for Polar regions that include coastal communities in the U.S. Arctic.”

The safety and security of the increasing number of mariners, tourists and vessels transiting through the rapidly changing and sometimes rough Arctic conditions is of the utmost concern to the Coast Guard, says Janaro. “Two major aspects of the Polar Code that will significantly contribute to enhanced safety in Polar regions are the new requirements for ships to perform an operational risk assessment to consider the unique hazards in these regions and the hull-ice strengthening requirements, specifically the unified Polar Class rules developed by the International Association of Classification Societies.” 

The Polar Code is one specific initiative in the Coast Guard Arctic Strategy Implementation Plan related to Arctic governance. The Polar Code ties directly into the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy by reducing risk factors for shipping in the Arctic. As such the Coast Guard will continue to build and broaden partnerships on the regional, national and international levels, says Janaro.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.