Canada Search and Rescue (source: Wikipedia)This yearOperation Nanook, the Canadian military’s largest recurring operation in the North, will run from August 20 to 29, and will focus on Search an Rescue (SAR) operations in the waters off the country’s northern coast, and will feature two exercises.

In the first, a fishing vessel in the Davis Strait will put in a call for assistance, setting into motion a search and rescue mission that will test military responders’ ability to locate, treat and evacuate the injured fishermen – played convincingly by mannequins.

In the second, and more involved, operation a cruise ship in distress will seek to make an unexpected call on Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut and home to 6,700 people.

Typically, Operation Nanook is a military exercise, aimed at training members of Canada’s armed forces how to fight in the demanding Arctic terrain. With the search and rescue scenario this year, the operation will involve a number of civilian organisations that observers say will add realism – and an extra layer of complexity – to an already life-like situation.

While that kind of involvement is appreciated, Ilja Leo Lang, a spokesperson for AECO, an industry group representing small-scale Arctic cruise operators, pointed out that search and rescue in the Arctic, no matter how well planned, was a last line of defence.

“This is an important exercise,” he says, “But we need to make sure ships can rescue their own passengers. There are close to no search and rescue facilities in the Arctic, so we prepare for situations in which we get no help.”

Lang underscored that the exercise appeared to be realistic, but he worried that the attention being placed on rescue efforts undermined confidence in the preparations Arctic cruise operators made well before passengers ever step on board.

“As important as planning for an accident is working to prevent one,” he says. “But exercises like these easily give the impression that operators don’t know what they are doing – or that they haven’t done anything to ensure the safety of passengers. That’s absolutely not the case.”

Cruise operators, he says, carry out rigorous risk assessments in order to minimise the chance of an accident. Governments, he says, should do more to help those efforts. One way would be to inform ships of the positions of other vessels in the area that could help – or which could need help – in the event of an accident.

Marc Jacobsen, a research associate with the Arctic Institutepublished a paper last year that used data from the Danish military’s 2013 search-and-rescue exercise off the coast of western Greenland to theorise what would happen in the event of an accident involving a ship the size of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that ran aground in Italy in 2012.

He said he would be eager to see whether the lessons learned during Operation Nanook would be applicable in other regions.

Like others, he underscored that the exercise would provide valuable training, but questioned whether planners had set the degree of difficulty too low.

Source: Arctic Journal.