Stranded passengers find warmth in Kugluktuk
“The time of an incident is not the time to be making friends”
People in Kugluktuk opened their arms to a tired group of unexpected visitors who arrived in the wee hours of Aug. 30.
More than 120 passengers and crew, taken off their cruise ship, the Clipper Adventurer, Aug. 29 by the Coast Guard icebreaker, the Amundsen, arrived in Kugluktuk after midnight on Aug. 30.
By the time they left at about 11 a.m. local time, bound for Edmonton on a Canadian North charter, Steve Novak, the main co-ordinator of their welcome in Kugluktuk, was ready to go to bed for a snooze.
For more than 17 hours he, other hamlet staff and locals improvised a plan on-the-spot to deal with one of the worst-case scenarios imaginable in the Arctic: a marine emergency.
“There was nothing in place,” said Novak— and if there was such a plan neither he nor the hamlet’s senior administrative official, both recent arrivals to their jobs, knew where it was.
But that didn’t stop Novak from acting.
“At this point, my main concern was addressing their needs that they had at the time and using what resources I could,” he told Nunatsiaq News.
This was his challenge, dealing with a shipload of people, aged 15 to 90, due to arrive in Kugluktuk off the Amundsen after midnight on Aug. 30.
The emergency transfer came after Clipper Adventurer, operated by Mississauga, Ont.-based Adventure Canada hit a rock in about three metres of water, about 55 nautical miles east of Kugluktuk on Aug. 27.
But no one in Kugluktuk knew the rescued group planned to head to the community until the early evening of Aug. 29.
Almost everyone in the community of 1,400 had gone fishing.
Someone from the Amundsen finally roused Irene Horn, co-owner of the Coppermine Inn in Kugluktuk.
Apparently, Horn was the only one answering a phone at that time because she was preparing Sunday supper for the inn’s guests.
Through her family, Novak finally learned about the crowd’s arrival.
Novak had originally been asked to arrange cultural activities for the ship’s passengers. The ship had their arrival on Aug. 28 due to the grounding. Adventure Canada was in contact with Novak, he said, but he had no idea about the timing of the Amundsen’s arrival in Kugluktuk and how the transfer of people off the Clipper Adventurer would take place.
“I felt a certain amount of pressure when they said they were initially coming. I took this challenge as the same challenge but with different circumstances,” he joked.
To prepare, Novak and others opened the community’s recreational complex and found some one to be there; they asked for local Northern store to open so they could get some food for the expected arrivals, and they collected blankets and pillows and brought them to the complex.
“We scrounged together as many blankets and pillows as we could from myself, the RCMP and the Enokhok Inn,” Novak said.
Thanks to the presence of astroturf on the hockey arena’s floor— the only such artificial grass surface in the Canadian Arctic, he expected everyone to be fairly comfortable there.
About 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 30 the first passengers and crew were taken off the Amundsen, 12 per barge load, on to a dock lit up by volunteers’ trucks, and then shuttled to Kugluktuk’s recreation complex in the community school bus.
Apart from the 15 minutes immediately after they had hit the rock and were asked to don their life jackets, passengers told Novak that once they figured out they weren’t going to sink, they felt fine.
But communication between the community— which organized this first class welcome, the Coast Guard and cruise company, Adventure Canada, was smooth only by pure chance.
Novak praised the crews from the two ships for their work, but was glad that everyone had arrived in good shape into Kugluktuk.
“As a community I don’t think we are designed to deal with a large amount of injuries,” Novak said, adding that, if that had been the case, the Coast Guard would probably played a larger role in the operation.
Another person who helped out during the night in Kugluktuk— but asked not to be named— said that if Canada plans to allow cruise ship traffic, there should be contingency plans in place and money to pay for emergency equipment in communities.
In May of 2009, concern over just such a maritime emergency in Nunavut drew about 100 ship captains, ship owners and government officials to Halifax to improve planning for an Arctic shipping disaster.
A mock shipping emergency conducted during the meeting, organized by the Company of Master Mariners of Canada, revealed huge holes in emergency planning which could increase the losses to life and environmental damage during a shipping emergency in the Arctic.
Participants in the exercise suggested many ways that planning for shipping emergency could be improved, such as building more trust among all parties involved, setting out clear lines for communication and improving contacts with local communities.
“The time of an incident is not the time to be making friends” was a statement repeated several times during this exercise— which proved to be apt during this past weekend’s near disaster— when no one in Kugluktuk except the co-owner of a private business— responded to the Coast Guard’s search for help in the community.