I would like to extend my warmest welcome to all of you. This is the second time that the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators have held a conference and joint search-and-rescue workshop so as to bolster cooperation and trust between rescue teams and cruise ship companies. It is my great pleasure to address you here today, in view of the enormous importance of collaboration between these two bodies with the increase in cruise ship traffic to and from Iceland. The last conference, held in April 2016, showed that these two groups need to talk together and enhance their awareness of each other’s capacities and plans. It is therefore vital that this conversation continue on a regular basis.
Cruise ship traffic to and from Iceland has increased markedly in recent years, and each summer nearly 500 ships dock at harbours around the country: a total of 10 harbours serving over 100,000 passengers. Because of passengers’ keen interest in the Arctic region, many of them disembark at the port of call. This stimulates demand for all kinds of tourism services, including wilderness tours, as well as other trade. The ships that come here are of all sizes, and their numbers are projected to increase even further in coming years. This requires that the necessary search-and-rescue arrangements be in place.
The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators emphasises the responsibility associated with sea travel in the Arctic region. Its ships usually run specialised tours and are therefore not as large as conventional cruise ships. The Association’s policy lays down the following objectives, among others:
To ensure that expedition cruises and tourism in the Arctic is carried out with the utmost consideration for the vulnerable, natural environment, local cultures and cultural remains, as well as the challenging safety hazards at sea and on land.
The Association also encourages professionalism, cooperation, and education about the Arctic and its unique natural environment, culture, and communities.
Treating our natural environment with respect and care is essential in the Arctic, as the area is highly vulnerable, not only to all types of natural changes but also, and perhaps even more important, to human activity. Therefore, we bear a great deal of responsibility, and in a number of areas:
We need to work together:
The Coast Guard and AECO have already joined forces, as I mentioned just now, in order to foster cooperation and trust in this area. We must also cooperate with neighbouring countries so as to map the extent of this marine traffic, as well as studying how countries in the Arctic can maximise the security of the region and the safety of those travelling here.
We need oversight and administration:
We must ensure that, insofar as is appropriate, the necessary regulatory framework is in place for marine traffic in the Arctic. And there must be effective monitoring.
We need to educate ourselves:
We must acquire and share the necessary knowledge about the activities of ship operators, as well as optimising our preparedness measures and those of our partners.
We need to stay trained:
At workshops like this one today, we present scenarios for potential events that test SAR personnel, how a ship’s location in the region may be involved, and how the control stations in the different countries work together to organise response measures. All parties involved need to put their capacities to the test and must be prepared to initiate rescue measures and take other action if anything should go wrong. It is also important to ensure the participation of cruise ships and SAR teams from other countries. Iceland has therefore emphasised the importance of conducting workshops with Danish and Norwegian naval personnel, as well as rescue stations in Norway and Greenland.
Travel by sea has been the lifeblood of Icelanders since the island was first discovered. Our links to the rest of the world are based largely on marine travel, and in recent years passenger transport by ship has been growing steadily. The Icelandic authorities consider the safety of both crew and passengers on these ships extremely important, and it is therefore crucial that the authorities, SAR teams, and ship operators cooperate closely and effectively. Travelling by sea in the Arctic can be difficult, and it demands experience and expertise. It is essential to know how ruthless nature can be, to be aware that weather can change in a split second, and to recognise the risks that this brings. The Arctic region covers challenging open seas, and the distances to the nearest shoreline or settlement can be great. This increases the need for good cooperation among the parties concerned – cooperation that often begins or is cemented at a workshop like this one, where participants can compare notes, identify successes and challenges, enhance passengers’ and ship operators’ confidence in the contingency system, and communicate the message that safety and security are best protected through close collaboration, vigilance, and professionalism.
I wish you all the best of luck and success in your work.