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Titanic’s legacy – safer sea lanes in the North Atlantic

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The "Titanic", a drawing from the book Liners, Tankers and merchant Ships by Robert Jackson

The “Titanic”, a drawing from the book Liners, Tankers and merchant Ships by Robert Jackson

Titanic’s legacy – safer sea lanes in the North Atlantic

(source: Lloyds of London)

The International Ice Patrol, established in response to the Titanic disaster, celebrates one hundred years of iceberg spotting

If the Australian billionaire Clive Palmer succeeds in his ambitious plan to build the Titanic II liner, its passengers will be able to go to sleep safe in the knowledge that the ship is better equipped to detect icebergs than its counterpart was on 14 April 1912.

Titanic was heading westwards towards New York on her maiden voyage when at 11:40 pm ship’s time, about 375 miles (600 km) south of Newfoundland, she hit an iceberg. In one of the deadliest disasters in maritime history, 1, 502 people drowned when she foundered in the early hours of 15 April.

The chances of the recreated Titanic cruise ship hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage – scheduled for 2016 – are remote, thanks to the vigilance of the US Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol (IIP), which celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Established in response to the sinking of the original Titanic, the IIP monitors iceberg danger near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland throughout the North Atlantic ice season.

In its early days, the IIP’s cutters USRC Seneca and USRC Miami simply conducted reconnaissance using look-outs with binoculars. Immediately following WWII, the IIP began to use aircraft for iceberg reconnaissance. Catalina flying boats and Liberator B-24s were employed, along with PB-1G Flying Fortress aircraft.

Today, satellites are used to augment Hercules aircraft that are equipped with modern radar technology to help the IIP detect iceberg targets whatever the weather.

All the iceberg data collected is fed into a computer model at the IIP Operations Center, along with ocean current and wind data. Using this information, the model predicts the drift of the icebergs and each day the predicted iceberg locations are used to estimate the iceberg limit, which is sent to mariners.

The IIP has maintained an unblemished record in its 100 years of service, according to Lisa Mack, IIP commander. “Not a single ship heeding International Ice Patrol warnings has struck an iceberg. Modern ships have struck icebergs – but inside the published iceberg limit or in other areas of the world, ” Cdr Mack says.

There is a lot of variability in the number of icebergs that reach the shipping lanes each year, Cdr Mack says. The journey of an iceberg from Greenland can take as long as two years and icebergs can get grounded and deteriorate in place or melt before reaching the shipping lanes. The prevailing weather and sea ice conditions and the strength of ocean currents throughout the long journey affect the number of icebergs that reach the shipping lanes.

“The most icebergs that reached the shipping lanes in one year was in 1984 with over 2, 000 icebergs. There have also been seasons when no icebergs reached the shipping lanes, ” Cdr Mack explains.

The ice season is defined by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) as 15 February to 1 July. However, there have been icebergs on the Grand Banks as early as January and as late as September.

Passengers aboard Titanic II can be assured that ships today are better equipped to detect icebergs than they were 100 years ago, when the IIP was formed, especially in their use of marine radar. “However, there are limitations, ” Cdr Mack says. “Precipitation and high seas can affect radar detection of icebergs.” For that reason, the International Ice Patrol’s diligence has not been reduced despite improvements in marine radar capability. “Now, in addition to the iceberg limit, we provide the density of icebergs to assist mariners in making route decisions, ” Cdr Mack adds.

It is possible that the IIP’s remit of providing iceberg information on one the most heavily transited sea routes in the world could widen in the future. Continued melting of Arctic pack ice might lead to ships using the North West passage, a sea route through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific.

Developing the best approach to providing iceberg information for that area would be addressed by the North American Ice Service, a partnership between the Canadian Ice Service, the International Ice Patrol, and the U.S. National Ice Center, Cdr Mack says.

However, right now the Titanic is on everyone’s minds. Every year since it was it was formed, the IIP has laid a memorial wreath in commemoration of the liner’s passengers and crew. This sombre duty is carried out with characteristic care.

“We’ve always conducted an annual memorial wreath drop in commemoration of Titanic. We may not always do the drop on the actual date or near the site depending on the iceberg population, ” Cdr Mack points out. “This year our detachment will be conducting reconnaissance between 18-24 April, so the drop will be conducted during that time.”




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