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[Exclusive] Weather Changes quickly in the Arctic

By Wendy Laursen 2014-03-09 17:20:00

Bjarne Rasmussen has sailed as an officer on many ships along the treacherous coast of Greenland, and he is now campaigning for better shipping safety in the region. He believes that it should be mandatory for master and bridge officers to complete an ice navigation course targeting Arctic ice conditions, as this is currently not mandated. 

His past experience demonstrates the value of experience and training. Sailing in 1998, Rasmussen had left Kap Broer Ruys in clear weather when it suddenly became misty with spread pack ice and icebergs around the ship. Rasmussen was the officer on duty along with a look-out and eventually the captain.

In these conditions, the ship's radar isn’t much use because the screen is completely filled with the echoes of ice objects. “A ship is easiest to manage in spread drift ice when it makes good speed through the water, and as I was an experienced officer, I gave the ship a little more speed, despite the fog.”

When the lookout suddenly cited an iceberg, Rasmussen had to react quickly. He could either turn the ship away or put it into reverse. “If I turned the ship too fast, I risked turning it towards a new iceberg that not would be visible in the mist. If, however, I began to reverse the ship I risked not being able to stop in time, hitting the iceberg in front. I chose to steer directly towards the iceberg ahead, while I quietly began astern maneuvering. If I backed too quickly with the engine and the propeller it would not give a maximum reversing effect.”

With a very slight bump the ship hit the ice strengthened bow directly and then became stationary.

Rasmussen believes that specific ice class rules should be defined for ships travelling in Greenland national waters, and he has set up a non-profit website (in Danish and English) with information designed to improve safety in Greenland waters: www.iceguide.dk. 

Photo credit: Captain Fritz Ploug Nielsen