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Will opening up the Arctic Ocean to sea vessels lead to another Titanic disaster?

On April 15, 1912, more than 1,500 passengers perished when the luxury ocean liner the Titanic crashed into an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic waters and sank. While today's sea vessels are outfitted with state-of-the-art navigation and technology systems, concerns that a similar tragedy could occur in the same icy waters have been renewed in recent years as the Arctic Ocean has opened up as a major shipping route.

Melting icecaps and glaciers combined with unpredictable weather and inhospitable sea conditions combine to make the Arctic region particularly hazardous. As the ice continues to melt and retreat, shipping vessels and cruise ships are opting for routes much farther north which increases the likelihood of a vessel encountering an iceberg or other challenging situation which could be disastrous for the seamen and passengers aboard.

Roughly 35 years ago, countries across the world agreed to assume emergency and rescue operations for sea vessels in peril near their shores. At the time, however, the Arctic Ocean was rarely traversed and therefore no countries pledged to come to the aid of those sea vessels and seamen who met an ill fate in Arctic waters.

Four years ago, Arctic bordering countries like Russia and the U.S. agreed to assume search and rescue responsibilities for the region. However, given the vast expanses of the Arctic Ocean and its unpredictable and dangerous conditions, the success of any such SAR mission is doubtful.

In an effort to promote safety and environmental conservation within the Arctic region, the Polar Code was recently passed into law. The provisions of the law, however, fail to establish clear safety regulations and restrictions when it comes to key safety concerns related to "ice-strengthened hulls, speed limits and the structural stability of vessels."

 

Source: The Maritime Executive, "Titanic Threats Still Lurk Today," Albert Buixadé Farré, April 21, 2015

History.com, "Titanic sinks," April 21, 2015

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