The small cruise ship MS Expedition (100 passengers, 57 crew) touched ground near Isispynten, east of Nordaustland, on 23rd July. The hull suffered minor damage and took a small volume of water. According to the ship owner and Norwegian officials, neither people nor the environment were at any time endangered. The ship could later get free and return to Longyearbyen with its own engine power.
This was already the third event of this kind in Spitsbergen this summer. On 23rd June, the „National Geographic Explorer“ ran aground in Engelskbukta, south of Kongsfjord. On 10 July, the day trip boat „Polar Girl“ managed to hit the bottom near Grumantbyen.
All groundings took place while the ships were on sightseeing cruise near the shore at low speed and finally went over without any serious drama. Nevertheless, these events are mostly unacceptable in areas without comprehensive SAR and oil spill facilities. (There are exceptions: small, strong boats can usually tolerate “controlled” groundings without any difficulty, this is occasionally even done deliberately. It is more or less a daily routine for example for flatbottom sailing ships in certain areas of the Dutch coast. But certainly not by any ship remotely similar to the MS Expedition in arctic waters).
A major problem for the safety of navigation in Spitsbergen is the lack of good charts. The Norwegian mapping authorities have this year given priority to other areas in mainland Norway rather than Spitsbergen. Given current working pace, it will take several generations to map the waters around the whole archipelago properly. Inspite of the official political priority that the northern areas are supposed to enjoy („nordområdesatsing“), Norwegian authorities seem not to take nautical safety in Svalbard waters important enough to allocate resources for proper mapping.
MS Expedition in Ny Ålesund, July 2011.
Source: Svalbardposten 29/2012