Investigation on Akademik Ioffe Grounding Calls for Additional Measures in Arctic


The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has concluded that the 2018 grounding of the passenger vessel Akademik Ioffe in the Canadian Arctic waters was caused by safety deficiencies and, therefore, called for additional sailing measures, according to an investigation. 

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has recommended developing and implementing mandatory mitigation measures in order to “ensure the safety of passenger vessels and to protect the vulnerable Arctic environment.”


According to the report, the investigation studied the incident that saw Russian passenger ship Akademik Ioffe run aground near the Astronomical Society Islands, 78 nautical miles north-northwest of Kugaaruk, Nunavut, on August 24, 2018. The ship carried 102 guests and 61 crew; no injuries were reported as a result of the grounding.

Multiple search and rescue assets from both the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Coast Guard were tasked to assist the distressed vessel on the day of the incident, TSB wrote. The vessel self-refloated with the flooding tide later that day, and passengers were evacuated and transferred to another passenger vessel the next day.

The vessel sustained serious damage to its hull: two ballast water tanks and two fuel oil bunker tanks were breached and took on water. Approximately 81 L of the vessel's fuel oil was released in the environment, according to TSB.

Investigation Findings

According to the report, the investigation determined that the Akademik Ioffe was sailing through “narrows in a remote area of the Canadian Arctic where none of the vessel crew had ever been, and which was not surveyed to modern hydrographic standards.”

“Since the navigation charts did not show any shoals or other navigational hazards, the bridge team considered the narrows safe; and despite a note to mariners indicating that the information used to establish water depths was of a reconnaissance nature, they did not implement any additional precautions or add extra personnel to the watch. Consequently, with the officer of the watch multitasking, and the helmsman busy steering the vessel, the steady decrease of the under-keel water depth went unnoticed for more than four minutes because the echo sounders’ low water depth alarms had been turned off,” the report reads.

The investigation also found that passenger safety operations did not meet some of the SOLAS Convention (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974) requirements.

“For example, safety briefings were carried out more than 12 hours following the vessel’s departure, while the requirements state that newly-embarked passengers must undergo safety briefings and musters before or immediately upon vessel departure,” the report reads/ “Additionally, expedition staff were informally tasked to coordinate passenger safety during the voyage, and provided the safety briefing to passengers on behalf of the vessel’s crew.”

According to the TSB report, the SOLAS Convention also requires that passenger vessels like the Akademik Ioffe have in place a decision support system (DSS) to manage all foreseeable emergency situations that may occur onboard. The investigation determined that the DSS onboard the Akademik Ioffe did not include emergency procedures for the vessel touching bottom or running aground.

TSB said that it studied the four groundings of passenger vessels in the Canadian Arctic since 1996 and that in three of these cases, “deficiencies in voyage planning or execution were significant contributing factors.”

This investigation noted that “operating in the Canadian Arctic poses unique risks, as passenger vessels are often navigating in areas that are not charted to modern standards in a harsh climate, with limited local search and rescue resources.”

Call for Measures

The report said that “given these risks, it is critical that operators of passenger-carrying vessels operating in the Canadian Arctic adopt additional mitigation strategies to address them.”

Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, combined, have the regulatory mandate to implement various risk mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood and consequences of a passenger vessel running aground in Arctic waters, according to the report.

“Therefore, until the coastal waters surrounding the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are adequately charted, and if alternate mitigation measures are not put in place, there is a persistent risk that vessels could make unforeseen contact with the sea bottom, putting passengers, crew and the environment at risk. This is why the Board is recommending that the Department of Transport, in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, develops and implements mandatory risk mitigation measures for all passenger vessels operating in Canadian Arctic coastal waters,” the report read.

Maritime intelligence company Lloyd’s List confirmed the findings of the TSB report, saying that “with more than 85 percent of Canadian Arctic waters having inadequate hydrographic data information, the likelihood of a similar occurrence involving passenger vessels engaged in adventure tourism is high.”

“When incidents do occur, the cold, vast, and sparsely populated region presents additional risks to passenger survivability. This is compounded by a lack of timely search and rescue response in the area. Given these risks and with passenger vessel traffic in the Arctic on the rise additional steps are needed,” Lloyd’s List wrote in a press statement.

“Although (the TSB’s) recommendation is not prescriptive, the Board highlighted optional measures which could include requiring more detailed inspections of vessels prior to entering the Arctic or possibly prohibiting vessels from transiting Arctic waters not adequately surveyed. Other measures noted in the report include mandatory carriage of additional navigational aids, mandatory use of supernumerary navigational experts, or ensuring other vessels are always nearby. Regardless of what measures are taken, the TSB report is clear: more needs to be done to mitigate risks, improve passenger safety, and protect a fragile and susceptible Arctic environment,” the intelligence company added.

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