Nunavut spotter sees New Zealand yacht heading east into the Northwest Passage

Local authorities alerted

The Kia Roa, seen here in icy waters, has been globetrotting, with its owner and skipper Peter Smith at the helm. His recent voyages include the 5,500-nautical-mile passage across the Southern Ocean from New Zealand to Chile. On Aug. 20, his vessel was seen in the Northwest Passage not far from Cambridge Bay where there has been little traffic of similar vessels this summer. (Photo from Peter Smith’s website)

By Jane George

Updated, 6:20 p.m.

When Inuit marine monitor Bobby Klengenberg of Cambridge Bay spotted a sailboat heading east into the Northwest Passage last Thursday, he knew that in 2020 pleasure craft are only allowed passage in these Arctic Canadian waters under certain conditions.

After noting the name of the vessel, the Kiwi Roa, Klengenberg went to the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization in Cambridge Bay, which then contacted Transport Canada.

“TC is aware of the vessel and that it is from New Zealand,” HTO manager Beverly Maksagak said in a discussion on social media.

In a statement sent to Nunatsiaq News, Transport Canada confirmed that it had ordered the vessel to leave the Northwest Passage.

“Transport Canada has directed the vessel to depart Canadian waters and not make landfall. The vessel has confirmed they received this direction,” the statement said.

Maksagak said that nearby communities and the Nunavut RCMP had also been alerted about the 52-foot aluminum sloop, owned by Peter Smith, a New Zealand boat builder and sailor turned long-distance cruiser.

On his website, Smith, 72, said that he had not yet sailed the Northwest Passage after an attempt from Greenland was stopped due to heavy ice conditions in 2018.

The Kiwi Roa crew knew they were not allowed into Canada, Maksagak said, and that they would not be allowed to dock in communities.

A message sent by Nunatsiaq News to Smith via “SailMail,” an e-mail service sent via HF radio, has also not received a response. “SailMail is slow, unreliable, and insecure,” his website states. “Peter may take some time to respond.”

Cruise ships were banned from Canadian Arctic waters in 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Later, most pleasure craft were also banned from operating within Canada’s Arctic coastal waters (north of the 60th parallel), as well as in the coastal areas of northern Quebec and Labrador.

But those restrictions do not apply to foreign pleasure craft, such as canoes, kayaks, sailboats and motorboats, exercising their “right of innocent passage” through Canada’s Arctic territorial waters: that is, as defined by the United Nations, their right to enter and pass through another state’s territory so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the other state.

However, individuals travelling aboard these vessels have been required to notify the minister of transport 60 days before arriving in Arctic waters, and Transport Canada has said they “may be subject to conditions.”

The measures are intended to allow the Canadian Coast Guard to focus efforts on essential operations, including community resupply, icebreaking, environmental response efforts, and search and rescue.

Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of transport, has said that these measures are also intended reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in remote and vulnerable Arctic communities.

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Quarantine Exemption ? on

    Well, as we have heard southern construction employees entered Iqaluit without undertaking their mandatory 14 days of isolation because they had an “exemption from having to quarantine in southern isolation facility” from the Chief Public Health Officer, you should definitely investigate that instead of wasting your time on a sailboat kilometers away from any hamlet…

    • Posted by Distorted reality on

      Where did we hear that? My understanding is that they are in fact abiding by the quarantine rules. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    • Posted by wrong info on

      southern construction workers still quarantine as per GN rule. However critical workers do not, but its a strange one because if for eg, a nurse who lives in nunavut, they would have to quarantine in the hub. but if its a locum nurse, they come directly to nunavut and mask for 2 weeks. it makes absolutely no sense. and i agree they should look into all the critical workers who come up without quarantine or those supposedly exemption instead of looking at this sole 73 years old sailor.

      • Posted by Ask CPHO on

        Construction workers do have to quarantine, but it looks like there are exception and we are not talking about critical workers here…unless you consider critical an engineer working on a construction project.

  2. Posted by Freedom of the Seas on

    There is no international consensus or agreement that the waters of the Northwest Passage belong to Canada at all. The idea that Canada can regulate who enters the NWP is one that exists in the minds of Canadians alone, no one else.

    • Posted by Future Disasters on

      Problem with that is, if we consider it to be an international waterway our ability to police and control it is greatly reduced. When the ice goes away we’ll be ripe for an environmental disaster from the increased shipping.

      This is one reason why most countries, with the Americans being the most well-known exception, have been content to allow us to consider it the NWP as internal waters. Really, what did it cost them to let us say that it is internal?

      When this becomes a more viable shipping route more and more are going to be contesting our internal waters claim.

      • Posted by Lars Gren on

        Don’t over estimate the value of the NWP. Once the polar cap is gone, all traffic will go straight over the pole – why dick around in shallow and challenging navigational passages such as Simpson Strait when you can do a straight shot over the pole???

    • Posted by Victor on

      Only US doesn’t recognize Canada owns Northwest Passage inter coastal waters while their Naval ships don’t intrude. So, just stay away from this nonsense discussion.

  3. Posted by Fred on

    Sure shows the importance of Guardian type programs (local people keeping eyes and ears open) as no one in Government seems to know they were even here. And the government says they are watching with satellites and ship beacons, that surveillance will only show the big ships, not these smaller private ones.

  4. Posted by Richard Denis on

    While some are nervous about the risk of Covid from this boat, please remember that he is travelling alone and has essentially been in quarantine for months. The risk is only for him. And to be asking that he get off the boat and quarantine alone in some community for 14 days (as some have suggested) or to have him expelled flies in the face of epidemiological science. This isn’t a with hunt or voodoo – this is science. And this guy and his boat are completely safe.

    • Posted by Eskimo boater on

      Richard you have it all wrong. Virus may have spread on the boat

  5. Posted by Trudi Woods on

    I dont know…this seems a little over the top to me in terms of survillance…a pleasure craft from New Zealand is suddenly a threat…Cruise ships used to sail into ports all over the world and now were keeping an eye on this…something is way out of whack here…

  6. Posted by Trevor on

    The issue in this case may not be the threat of COVID-19 since as others have noted Peter Smith has been alone at sea (presumably) for some time now. The issue is a foreign, or any vessel for that matter, travelling through Canadian waters without the required permission. While the debate over International waterway versus internal waters may be unsettled, the ownership of the Exclusive Economic Zone is indisputable. And while the right of innocent passage is confirmed in an international waterway, there is no guarantee of any other right such as the right to stop, to visit land, or anything else beyond that right to sail through, hence Innocent Passage. As has been rightly pointed out, this incident speaks to the value of the Inuit Marine Monitoring Program and the actions of Bobby Klengenberg in this case to identify the vessel, inquire about its intentions and inform the proper authorities. While Mr. Smith and the Kiwi Roa may be on a voyage of Innocent Passage, it appears he did not inform the appropriate authorities of his voyage and he either has trouble with his Automatic Identification System (AIS) (possible) or has it turned off (also possible). He definitely had an AIS unit on board 34 days ago since a quick search on Marinetraffic.com shows his last known location to be Nome, Alaska 34 days ago. The Inuit Marine Monitoring Program was established in part to monitor this type of vessel traffic. There have been concerns raised by many that vessels of this type have the ability top come into Nunavut adjacent waters, visit and possibly disturb important cultural, ecological and archaeological sites without permission and in some cases without detection. So the issue here is not COVID and not the International vs Internal debate even though both are important. It is, in my view at least, the bigger issue of knowing, understanding and controlling visits to important locations by those who may not always be innocent voyagers. Finally, if or when Mr. Smith runs into trouble with ice or uncharted shoals (hopefully he won’t) it will be a Canadian ship or Silver Dolphin or freighter canoe or helicopter or plane that goes to get him so we have a right to know what he’s up to. I would bet a lot of money that when he sailed across the Southern Ocean his AIS was transmitting and people knew where he was and what his intentions were.
    Anyway good job Bobby Klengenberg.

    • Posted by Of Concern on

      The Inuit Marine Monitoring Program is actually of great concern.

      The concept is good, but non-governmental organizations messing in national sovereignty issues is ripe for abuse and misunderstanding. NTI is operating well outside of their remit and competence.

    • Posted by Capt Larry Meisner, (CCG Ret) on

      I have sailed on and commanded heavy icebreakers in the Canadian high Arctic for over 30 years. For anyone not trained in ice navigation and how ice accumulates, how weather patterns determine concentration, thickness and extent of coverage, is courting disaster.
      These people are a danger to themselves and others who would be their rescuers.
      I understand this craft’s last known position was Nome, Alaska according to his AIS. It is highly suspicious that the AIS is no longer functioning.
      I will not get into who owns that part of the world but I will say with absolute certainty that no one other than the Canadian Coast Guard will come to his rescue if required.
      It is also suggested that he was at sea for a considerable amount of time without stopping for supplies and thus has self isolated for the required 14 days. This in itself is disturbing for a variety of reasons which would and should be self evident for any seasoned mariner.
      Best of luck and hope for a speedy passage to wherever it is you are ultimately headed

      • Posted by Capt. C. Hurst on

        As a “seasoned mariner” I fail to understand what is “disturbing for a variety of reasons” that a long distance Sailor has spent “a considerable amount of time at sea without stopping for supplies”?

  7. Posted by Disgruntled on

    If this dude has been on a sailboat across any ocean towards the Northwest Passage, then he’s clearly been “isolating” for 14+ days. He’s not a risk to anyone.

  8. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    So he entered the NW Passage. And Canada has ordered him to exit it. He will – at the other end, and continue on his way. Much ado about nothing.

  9. Posted by Canoe on

    NWP runs through Canadian territory. Nuavut and NWT. it is however undefended. Nuke subs have run room at NWP.

    • Posted by Not really on

      The waters are not ‘Canadian’ though, that’s the issue.

  10. Posted by C Webster on

    Id be curious to know if any other sailors cancelled their trips through the NWP.
    I also agree with the comments that there isn’t much of a Covid risk, but the fact that Canadian coast guard would be the ones helping him in an emergency gives makes me think he isn’t doing the best thing.
    I wish him a safe and speedy voyage to his next destination. I also hope his example doesn’t cause others to sail through.

  11. Posted by okay on

    So China thinks most of the South China Sea belongs to China. China does have the muscle to back it up. Regardless, the problem is visible

  12. Posted by M Centre on

    This guy should’ve planted a flag and declared all of the lands his and his in title…. 😉

  13. Posted by ALEX HIBBERT on

    I requested and was granted permission to operate a small boat in the Canadian Arctic this summer. Transport Canada were very prompt and reasonable, and stipulated a number of extra hoops to jump through in order to be approved, above and beyond what small boats usually need by law.

    So, whether you think the NWP is Canadian or international, it can be done sensibly if you plan ahead, and respect the people who may be asked to come and assist you. Even during this extraordinary summer.

    (The voyage didn’t occur due to the continued territorial border closures, not due to boat access)

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