DNV GL, which is owned by the Det Norske Veritas foundation, has charted the risk of contamination due to shipping accidents in Svalbard and Jan Mayen in two reports published in May and November. The reports, intended to provide the basis for strengthening preparedness against oil pollution, conclude an accident involving the release of fuel or cargo may occur every six years in Svalbard.
Because fishing vessels make up more than two-thirds of shipping traffic, they are expected to be responsible for the most releases from accidents. Tugboats, research, and search and rescue vessels comprise 11 percent of the traffic, while passenger ships account for eight percent.
However, accidents involving the latter are projected to have the greatest impact. The reason is overseas cruise ships carry larger amounts of fuel than other ships operating here.
An overview shows passenger vessels have accounted for most of the ship accidents since 1998 and 14 of these cases involved questions regarding groundings. There have been 48 ship accidents overall during that period, with fishing vessels ranking second among those most frequently involved.
However, it is not clear how many near misses there have been during the same period. Also some of the accidents did not result in serious consequences.
Svalbard's protected status means the threshold for accepting environmental risk is high. The DNV GL reports detail several measures aimed at reducing the risk of accidents:
• Ensuring sailing corridors are a safe distance from land, sea lanes to ports and places of interest for cruise vessels.
• Including the seaward approach to Longyearbyen in the coverage of Vardø's vessel traffic control, and include the Polarsyssel and tugboats at Svea in the preparedness plan.
• Requiring cruise and expedition ships to sail in convoys to help each other. This also implies a need for the vessels to have oil spill response equipment.
• Establishing caution areas.
• Ongoing assessment of requirements for safety beyond what is required in polar code and traffic rules in the Arctic.
The DNV GL reports project ship traffic in Svalbard and Jan Mayen will increase 29 percent from current levels, with much of that being large bulk carriers and container ships using the Northeast Passage. In addition, an increase in passenger traffic is expected.
A significant increase in traffic around Bjørnøya is not expected during the next 15 years, despite increased oil industry activity south of the island. The DNV GL reports state oil exploration around Spitsbergen is unlikely until about 2030 at the earliest. The prerequisite for it happening at all is a change in the management regime of the area.
Changes in ice conditions means DNV GL is awaiting an increase in fishing activity in the coming years. Research is expected to only increase by a marginal two percent annually during the next five years.
The report allows for the possibility of Svalbard becoming a hub for increased shipping traffic between Asia and Europe, but adds it is not the most probable outcome.
An extension of cruise season is also expected as as tourism offerings are developed.
The DNV GL reports also show there is considerable uncertainty about coal mining in Svalbard after 2030.