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US Vessel Turned Away from Canadian Arctic Waters

by Daria Blackwell / OCC 1 Aug 23:14 UTC
Northwest passage © Photo supplied

Covid-19 restrictions are being applied to vessels wishing to transit the Northwest Passage.

As the Covid-19 pandemic spread, Canada’s Minister for Transport issued an order stating, “It is prohibited for a passenger vessel to enter arctic waters from any other waters,” but there were exceptions. As stated by Canada on May 14, 2020, exemptions included "Foreign pleasure craft exercising their right of innocent passage through Canada's Arctic territorial waters; however, these vessels will be required to notify the Minister of Transport 60 days in advance of arriving in Arctic waters and may be subject to conditions."

This was reaffirmed in Interim Order No. 3 Respecting Passenger Vessel Restrictions Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)’ released June 30, 2020.

As per the above, the boat in question alerted Transport Canada well in advance of its intention to make a non-stop transit of the Canadian Arctic and had received clearance, but after setting out and sailing as far as Cape Farewell, the vessel received another message from the government specifically denying any entry into Canadian inland waters through October 31. This vessel has turned back and will not be attempting a passage in 2020.

This comes at a time when increasing numbers of adventurous sailors are venturing into the high latitudes. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is responsible for the regulation of craft of all sizes throughout the world, however, it normally limits its legislation to commercial vessels.

A voluntary code, ‘Polar Yacht Guide’ (PYG) has been drafted by a number of experienced high latitude sailors. PYG is in three parts: Part A addresses general issues concerning the safety of navigation and voyage planning in both polar regions. It covers the same subjects as the IMO Polar Code chapters 9 and 11 but is written for smaller vessels. Part B gives specific guidance for yachts navigating in the Arctic. Part C is largely a reproduction of existing safety and environmental advice for yachts produced by the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (ATS).

The Polar Yacht Guide is being sponsored by World Sailing who are represented on the IMO working group considering this issue. World Sailing is proposing that education, in the form of specific yacht guidance, is likely to be more effective than legislation. The draft document can be viewed on the OCC Forum.

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