San Francisco: A drifting supply barge that broke away from its towboat in October is meandering unpredictably through Arctic waters in a “drunkard’s walk” pattern and was less than 50km from Russia’s northeast coast according to observers’ comments on Tuesday.
The 131-foot barge, owned by Canadian marine cargo operator NTCL (Northern Transportation Company Ltd), came adrift in heavy seas en route back to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories after delivering supplies to a remote site along the Canadian coastline.
It has no cargo or crew but is carrying 3,500 litres of light diesel fuel in its tanks. NTCL, the US Coast Guard and the State of Alaska have been tracking the barge’s movements by a GPS device that NTCL dropped onto it. It has covered some 2,200km on its wanderings.
One observer, Mark Serreze, of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado said: “It would go west for a while, north for a while. It’s been described as a drunkard’s walk.”
The barge could not be removed before winter locked it in ice and NTCL says it will attempt to recover it in July. If that fails experts see two likely outcomes – it could crash into the Russian coast or it could get caught in the trans-polar drift stream, circle the Arctic and come out on the Atlantic side.
Last week the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) announced new protective buffer zones around the Aleutian Islands. The buffer zones, known as “Areas to be Avoided” will comprise five areas stretching 1,200km and they provide critical time for a powerless, drifting vessel to undergo repairs, or to launch an emergency response effort. They also reduce the likelihood that a ship will run aground.