Why cruise operators should adopt magnetic patches to boost safety in Arctic waters
Increased ocean traffic in high latitudes may be a product of global warming, but it does not mean that Polar waters have become any safer. Sunshine and icebergs make attractive photos in holiday brochures but an element of risk remains and even the hardiest passengers will demand reassurances from their cruise operator.
In 2017, IMO introduced the Polar Code to increase ship safety and prevent pollution hazards. Ships certified as conforming to the Code are consequently acknowledged as being prepared and technically equipped for dealing with the Polar environment.
To achieve this certification ships must undergo a thorough approvals process. They must demonstrate the ship and crew can cope with arctic emergencies and be capable of dealing with any problems they might encounter.
While it is important for the maritime authorities to know and approve of a ship’s fitness for Arctic waters, it is equally important for passengers to know this too. Unfortunately, anything that refers to the remotest possibility of something going wrong during a voyage is usually actively discouraged by the cruise company’s marketing department.
There is no easy answer to this dilemma but a consequence is that ship operators may not be aware of products and practices being successfully adopted by others in the industry. This is equally frustrating for suppliers who may be prevented from disclosing their products’ successes by non-disclosure agreements.
The Norwegian company Miko Marine AS has been living with this drawback for many years and company general manager, Nicolai Michelsen, said he often finds potential customers surprised they have never encountered their range of magnetic patches before. “They are particularly relevant for ships operating in Polar waters where their hulls can be very vulnerable to being holed by old, hard ice,” he told Passenger Ship Technology. “A well-known victim of this was the MV Explorer cruise ship which went down off Antarctica in 2007 after suffering a relatively small ice puncture. The crew was unable to stop the inflow of water and when the power failed the pumps stopped and the ship finally sank. The only good part of the story was that thanks to the calm weather and other ships being just a few hours away, all passengers and crew were picked up unharmed.
Miko has been providing a solution to this problem since 1997 when its first magnetic patches appeared on the market. In an emergency, a patch made from a supremely strong laminate that includes a flexible magnetic layer can be lowered over the hole where it will stick like a giant fridge magnet. The magnetic adhesion of the patch combined with the outside water pressure will keep it securely in place and close the hole. Additional high-power magnets may also be used to maintain the seal until the ship is safely in dock. “We have already been told by a ship’s officer who witnessed the sinking of MV Explorer that had such a patch been available, the outcome would probably have been very different,” said Mr Michelsen.
Since their introduction, Miko patches have been used extensively around the world and can claim to have saved many ships. Today they are carried by every ship in the French Navy, all Norwegian Coastal Administration emergency towing vessels and a huge range of other ships whose owners recognise that risks exist and acknowledge their obligations to prepare for them.
“We realise that Polar cruise operators may be reluctant to remind their passengers of the risks by telling them how they are well equipped to deal with such an emergency,” said Mr Michelsen. “But when it comes to applying for Polar Code certification, carrying a set of patches demonstrates the ship takes the risks and its safety obligations very seriously.”
Nicolai Michelsen is general manager at Miko Marine