'Not all ships play by the rules.'
Maritime expert urges 'no go' Arctic sea lanes
Increased ship traffic in the Arctic may be a boon to local businesses, but it can put the environment at risk, says a maritime traffic expert.
The pollution risks are so high that Arctic waters should be declared "no go" zones until strict regulations and monitoring programs are in place, says Capt. Walter Nadolny, an assistant professor of marine transportation at the Maritime College in New York state.
Local environmental officers should be stationed on each commercial vessel traveling through Arctic waters to safeguard against abuses, Nadolny recommends.
Lowering speed limits can also help reduce air pollution, he says.
Most ships produce high levels of polluting emissions from the cheap, heavy fuel they burn, called "bunker fuel" and contains soot directly linked to lung cancers, heart attacks and respiratory diseases.
Studies show a 10 per cent reduction in speed by such ships produces a 23 per cent reduction in emissions.
Nadolny, a speaker at last week's Iqaluit conference on planning and climate change, called the current level of shipping traffic in the Arctic a "blizzard." But he cautioned that a total "white-out" from increased traffic is possible in the near future.
Nadolny, who worked on cruise ships as an environmental officer, says "not all ships play by the rules."
Cruise ships carrying between 200 and 800 passengers each arrived in Nuuk, Greenland every day this past week.
Each one of those vessels produces a weekly load of waste: about 91 cubic metres of solid waste, 72 kilos of hazardous waste and more than 2,300 cubic metres of "gray" water from showers, "black" water from toilets and oily bilge water from the ship's engines.
The release of gray water is known to affect underwater life, while black water dumps huge amounts of sewage into the sea. Even when dumped offshore, dumped sewage can roll back into communities with the tides.
Some ships dump their bilges before separating oil from the water, a move that can damage bird life and beaches.
Ships also release ballast water or take it on as needed. Early European explorers like Martin Frobisher used rocks as ballast to stabilize their ships, but today's vessels rely on water.
Problems arise when ballast water picked up in one place is discharged somewhere else, sometimes releasing foreign creatures like zebra mussels into the water.
One ship unwittingly picked up water contaminated with sewage in China and then discharged it into San Francisco Bay, causing a cholera outbreak.
Nadolny said, however, that recycling, sorting and incineration can reduce the amount of trash carried around by cruise ships.
But cruise ships are likely to use local dumps when they remain in the North for several weeks at a time.
While Nadolny was in Iqaluit, he also met with officials from the Government of Nunavut and other organizations.
His message: the risks to Arctic waters will only go up as the demand for the region's gas and oil reserves rises, ice cover shrinks and shipping traffic of all kinds increases.
Nadolny said governments and communities must plan ahead for more ship traffic in the Arctic, decide who's responsible for managing it, and have proper equipment on hand to deal with spills and other emergencies.
The list of "what-ifs" that need to be anticipated includes spills, evacuations and hazardous chemical releases.
Canada's Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act requires double hulls on ships and bans dumping in Arctic waters, but it doesn't provide blanket protection.
For one thing, the United States has challenged Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, claiming it's an international waterway and that Canada does not have the right to ban ships simply because they may not meet Canadian standards.
And the act doesn't cover all ships. Canada's government-owned vessels are exempt from the Arctic Shipping Pollution Prevention Regulations.
Section 28 of the regulation contains a loophole that allows ships to dump sewage in Arctic waters.
The section on sewage deposit says "any ship and any person on a ship may deposit in the Arctic waters such sewage as may be generated on board that ship."
Other amendments to the federal Shipping Act have also made it legal to dump garbage in certain Arctic waters, including areas in the Beaufort Sea, Lancaster Sound and near communities such as Pond Inlet.
The compliance of small expedition cruise ships with regulations is particularly problematic, Nadolny says, because these ships have less at stake than large tankers and sealift vessels, which are more likely to comply with regulations because they have multi-million dollar contracts with government or industry.
Iqaluit mayor Elisapie Sheutiapik, who attended Nadolny's presentation in the city council chambers, said he raised many questions that should be considered as Iqaluit moves forward with its deep water port project.