Modern Viking Voyage Halted - By Pilotage Fees

Courtesy Draken Expedition

By MarEx 2016-07-13 21:10:39

The Viking ship replica Draken Harald Hårfagre, which has gained a high profile as the largest vessel of her kind in modern times, has been prevented from attending a tall ship gathering in Duluth – not because of weather, or technical difficulties, but due to the cost of pilotage fees.

The pilotage through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes and back would cost the vessel $400 an hour, and is required by law for any "non-U.S., non-Canadian vessel that is not strictly recreational and that is over 35 meters in length," said John Swartout, president of the Western Great Lakes Pilot Association, speaking to local media. He said that the U.S. Coast Guard makes the determination of which vessels require a pilot and which do not, and it was not up to the pilots to decide. 

The expedition said that it had believed the 35-meter vessel would be just under the size limit.

"We are required a pilot as soon as we leave the dock with [the same] rate as a commercial freight ship. It is very disappointing, the people in the harbors around the lakes are expecting us and we have been warmly welcomed in every port we have visited, it is a pity if we can not pursue this expedition," said Captain Björn Ahlander.

The day after the announcement, the Draken's organizers said that they were still trying to fund the passage, or seek an exemption, but had not yet found backing. "Unless we find a solution we are unfortunately forced to leave the Great Lakes. The fees are just not possible for a project like Draken Harald Hårfagre to pay," says owner and curator of the project Sigurd Aase. The organization estimates that fees would total to $400,000 for the journey. 

The Draken Expedition noted in a statement that "our project does not blame the pilots, we are aware of the need for pilots in the Great Lakes, it is the cost of the pilotage we can not bare."

That hourly cost is also the subject of ongoing litigation. A consortium of ship owners and port representatives has sued the Coast Guard over a hike in pilotage fees, contending that the agency has set the rates so high that "pilotage is now one of the largest single cost items for foreign-flag vessels that enter" the area. For relief, they have asked a federal court to reverse the Coast Guard’s decision and to grant a 20 percent cut in rates.