[Show/Hide Left Column]

Incidents and Accidents in the Arctic

(from AMSA Report 2009)


The Arctic has always been and will continue to be a challenging environment for search and rescue and emergency response. This is due to the very large geographic area involved and the relative low density of activity and response capabilities. In order to grasp potential threats to human safety and the marine environment as a result of potential incidents, it is important to understand what incidents may have occurred and where the areas are that have had the most incidents.

As part of the AMSA database, a summary of the incidents and accidents occurring in the Arctic region between1995-2004 was developed. No one source of data was found to be sufficient to cover the circumpolar region; therefore a compilation of a number of sources was necessary to create the summary. The main sources of information used were the Lloyds MIU Sea Searcher database, the Canadian Hydraulics Centre Arctic Ice Regime System database and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (Marine.) Though this combined dataset is limited, it provides a basis for a very broad analysis of what type of incidents are occurring in the Arctic region and what areas may be more prone to incidents and therefore at a greater risk of further ones in the future.

The incidents and accidents were categorized by the type of incident that occurred, where and when it occurred, whether there were fatalities as a result, whether there was a significant oil spill involved and whether the vessel involved was considered a total loss for insurance purposes. Incident types were grouped into the following categories:

Grounding: Where a vessel came in contact with the bottom and, therefore, required assistance or significant effort to be refloated. In some cases, vessels could not be re-floated and were either abandoned or broken up for salvage.

Collision: Where two vessels make contact resulting in minor to a serious damage to the vessel.

Damage to Vessel: Where damage to the vessel occurred, due to a variety of reasons ranging from contact with the pier, collision with ice, extreme weather or other factors.

Fire/Explosion: Where a fire or explosion occurred onboard a vessel, resulting in minor to very serious damage to the vessel and other consequences, such as fatalities.

Sunk/Submerged: Where a vessel was submerged in water for a period of time or sunk completely due to a range of causes.

Machinery Damage/Failure: Where a vessel sustained damage to machinery or complete machinery failure.

It is important to note that the incidents captured as part of AMSA excluded onboard incidents that may have involved injury to passengers and crew, but where there was no damage to the vessel. For a summary of the number and type of accidents and incidents involving vessels see Table 5.4.

Using the exact geographic locations for the different incidents and accidents, the data was entered into the GIS database, along with the different characteristics identified. The result was Map 5.7, which shows all of the reported incidents and accidents reported for the circumpolar region for the period of 1995-2004.

When looking at the geographic distribution of the incidents for the defined period shown in Map 5.7 there are certain gaps and trends that emerge. There is a complete absence of incidents reported in the Russian Arctic and there are some areas where there appears to be a concentration of incidents during the years collected. These areas are along the northern coast of Norway, around the Aleutian Island chain and in the Bering Sea, along the Labrador coast and in Hudson Strait in Canada and around Iceland and the Faroe Islands. These concentrations of incidents are consistent with the traffic patterns shown in the AMSA activity database – areas that show the concentrations of incidents are also those where the largest volume of vessel activity is occurring. This trend is even more apparent when the vessel routes for 2004 are shown on the same map as the incidents.

One of the most dramatic incidents in 2004 was the loss of life and sinking of the Selendang Ayu off the coast of Alaska. The incident is a graphic example of the key gaps in infrastructure, emergency response and salvage services that are readily available in other parts of the world’s oceans.


  •  1. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Report 2009

Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©

Search Guide [toggle]