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Arctic Yearbook 2012
very few of the ports have the essential facilities such as adequate water depth, berths and
mechanizations needed for increased shipping. Adequate marine communication systems exist in
some parts of the NSR, but not in others. Communications using VHF-radio, MF- and HF-systems
and satellite are generally adequate for the lower parts of NSR, but data transmission becomes
problematic when the High Arctic is reached. Several search and rescue centres are located along the
NSR, but only a few can give the support needed for ships sailing along the route. Russia has made
structural plans for implementation of search and rescue technology along the NSR up to 2020, but
needs great financial support to complete the plans (Østreng et al., 2012: Ch. 5). This state of affairs
may well explain why 71 heads of 98 shipping companies answered “no” to the question “if they are
considering developing operations in the Arctic” in a recent opinion poll, whereas 17 answered “yes”
and 10 “maybe” (Lasserre and Pelletier, 2011: 1472).
The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage (NWP) is the name given to a set of marine routes between the Atlantic and
Pacific Ocean, spanning the straits and sounds of the Canadian Archipelago, the Davis Strait and the
Baffin Bay in the east, and the Beaufort Sea in the west. The base of the archipelago stretches some
3000 km along the mainland coast, covering about 80 degrees of ocean and land territories (Riska,
2011: 57). The Archipelago is one of the largest in the world. If islets and rocks are included, the
Archipelago comprises approximately 36 000 pieces of dry land above sea level, making it one of the
most complex geographies on Earth. From Baffin Island to Banks Island, it covers a distance of
about 2 400 kilometres, and the size of this whole archipelago is approximately 2.1 million square
kilometres, i.e. about the size of Greenland (AMSA, 2009: 20).
The Canadian Archipelago is subdivided into two main parts by the Parry Channel: the northern part
consists of the Queen Elisabeth islands, whereas the southern part comprises all islands located
north of the Canadian mainland and south of the Parry Channel. Thus, the most troublesome part of
the NWP, as seen from a mariner’s point of view, runs through a continuous archipelago with
narrow straits often jammed with impenetrable multi-year sea ice drifting in from the Central Arctic
Ocean. The NWP consists of seven different routes of which six run through the southern part of
the archipelago (see Figure 3).