Cruise ship grounding in Nunavut waters reveals security holes

“You don’t have the infrastructure to do it properly”

By JANE GEORGE

What if the grounding of the Clipper Adventurer had occurred in less accessible waters and there had been injuries— or if the incident had also been associated with terrorism or other forms of violence? (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


What if the grounding of the Clipper Adventurer had occurred in less accessible waters and there had been injuries— or if the incident had also been associated with terrorism or other forms of violence? (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Now that the Clipper Adventurer passengers have returned safely back south, the incident which saw them forced to evacuate their 90-metre cruise ship, which grounded Aug. 27 near Kugluktuk, raises many questions.

A Transportation Safety Board investigation will eventually reveal the circumstances which led to the ship running aground — which are likely to reflect a combination of bad decisions and poor mapping.

But what if the recent grounding had been caused intentionally or had some links to terrorist activity?

That’s the question Nunatsiaq News posed to Rob Huebert, an expert in Arctic security issues and associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

Elsewhere in the world, cruise ships have been subject to bomb scares, shootings, pirate takeovers and other hijackings.

Although an apparent accident, the recent grounding of the Clipper Adventurer does raise some important security issues, Huebert said in an Aug. 30 interview.

Suppose the cruise ship’s grounding — or some other worse calamity, which could have occurred — was caused intentionally.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one had thought that terrorists would use airplanes to bring down the World Trade Centre, Huebert said, as an example of the “vivid imagination” which terrorists call on.

“The idea of turning airplanes into cruise missiles was something nobody had ever thought of before,” Huebert said.

And the grounding shows some security holes in Canada’s North.

In the last week’s incident, there was little control over who got off in Kugluktuk because there were no customs officials present in Kugluktuk to check everyone’s passports as they arrived, although it is likely that the Amundsen’s crew did collect some identification from the cruise ship passengers.

“All you’re thinking about is the safety of the crew and passengers first, so you’re not thinking about passport clearance,” Huebert said.

As well, the Kugluktuk airport has no security equipment to check passengers boarding aircraft.

It’s challenging to screen everyone in an emergency anywhere, Huebert acknowledged.

“The big difference between the North and the South is that you [in the North] don’t have the infrastructure to do it properly,” he said.

As for the human security issues, Huebert said it was “just luck” that no one was seriously injured in this mishap and that the Amundsen was relatively closeby.

“Either we just are so incredibly lucky or the Arctic in certain sections is more busy than we think,” said Huebert, who has often said Ottawa needs to have more control over its northern waters. “We’ve been lucky so far.”

Even so, the Aug. 27 grounding of the Clipper Adventurer shows a need for more monitoring, improved emergency preparation and a greater search and rescue capability in the North, he said.

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