The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has met with the commander and chief of Arctic Command last week. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss common interests and possible cooperation related to Arctic expedition cruise tourism.

AECO represents the majority of the expedition cruise operators in the Arctic. As a part of Denmark’s armed forces Arctic Command’s primary task is to monitor the waters surrounding Greenland and the Faroe Islands. This includes inspection responsibilities in regard to cruise vessels that are subject to reporting requirements when sailing in these waters.

As safety at sea has become an ever more integrated part of the public debate regarding the Arctic, the issue regarding safety in connection with Arctic cruise tourism has also become more important. This is some of the background for Arctic Command’s Search and Rescue Exercises (the so called SAREX)) the last two consecutive years, in which the scenario has been the grounding of a cruise vessel. Simultaneously AECO and the cruise industry have taken a number of initiatives to increase safety in regard to cruise operations in the Arctic.

Major General Stig Ostergaard Nielsen, who chaired the meeting, informed about the conclusions Arctic Command has drawn from the SAREX exercises and the lessons learned from the ongoing presence in the waters surrounding Greenland and the Faroe Islands. AECO’s executive director, Frigg Jorgensen, informed about the industry measures that had been taken to increase safety at sea. This includes satellite based vessel tracking, through which AECO’s member vessels can track other vessels position, direction and speed. This is only one of a number of tools, which are used in connection with the assessment of risks connected to the operation of a vessel.

 AECO also informed about the cruise database, a new tool, which gives users thorough knowledge about cruise vessels technical specifications and an overview of their sailing plans and activities carried out. AECO is presently making assessments to find the best way of sharing depth soundings that are recorded by cruise vessels when sailing in Arctic waters. Such information is often an important supplement when navigating in areas with limited or lacking official sea charts.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to follow up in a number of areas. Arctic Command will among other things be given access to AECO’s vessel-tracking system, cruise-database information and receive other cruise relevant information, while Arctic Command will keep the dialogue with AECO and for example inform about relevant episodes or observations, that the cruise-industry could have a special interest in or will be able to act on.