Chapter 9 Mitigating the Tyranny of Time and Distance: Community-based Organizations and Marine Mass Rescue Operations in Inuit Nunangat

In: Shipping in Inuit Nunangat
Peter Kikkert
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Calvin Aivgak Pedersen
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P. Whitney Lackenbauer
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In Inuit Nunangat, increased vessel traffic, uncharted seabed, the presence of ice hazards, extreme weather, and inexperienced operators increase the risk of marine transportation accidents and concomitant mass rescue operations (MRO). Marine MROs are low-probability, high-consequence scenarios that are complex and challenging wherever they occur. In Inuit Nunangat, challenges are exacerbated by austere environmental conditions, limited support infrastructure, inadequate local medical capacity, and fewer vessels of opportunity that can be called upon for assistance. Perhaps the most serious challenges are those posed by the tyranny of time and distance. Given the vast distances involved and the position of Canada’s primary search and rescue assets in the southern parts of the country, the arrival of SAR resources on-scene can take significant time. In this chapter, we argue that community-based organizations (CBOs) would act as valuable force multipliers both at sea and shoreside during a marine MRO. We use the results of a mass rescue tabletop exercise involving community responders from Nunavut, follow-up interviews, and additional scenario-based discussions to develop the functions that CBOs could perform. We also provide a roadmap for how to best prepare community responders to take on these roles and to ensure that their capabilities are reflected in relevant mass rescue and emergency plans.

1 Introduction

On 27 August 2010 at 1832 Mountain Daylight Time (MDT), the expedition cruise ship Clipper Adventurer, with 128 passengers and 69 crew on board, ran aground on a known shoal in Coronation Gulf, approximately 55 nautical miles east of the community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut. With the vessel listing 5° to portside the crew carried out emergency procedures, sounded the tanks, and lowered the lifeboats. The accident caused “extensive damage” to the hull and holed thirteen double–bottom tanks and compartments, including four full diesel oil tanks.1 Over the next few hours, passengers carried on with their regular routine while the crew made two unsuccessful attempts to back off the shoal and refloat the ship. The situation could have escalated quickly and dramatically during this critical period. After its investigation into the incident, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board found that the vessel’s master did not have “sufficient damage stability information to assess whether or not the vessel would be stable once off the shoal” and concluded that without a complete seaworthiness assessment and on-scene search and rescue resources, the refloat attempts could have placed the passengers and crew at great risk.2

At 1915 MDT on 27 August, Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Inuvik advised Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Trenton of the grounding, which immediately issued an Enhanced Group Calling (EGC) SafetyNet broadcast with distress priority at a 200-mile radius around the stricken vessel to alert possible vessels of opportunity. At 1932 MDT, JRCC Trenton tasked the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) icebreaker Amundsen to respond to the incident, while preparing a Hercules aircraft with air-droppable search and rescue kits on board to proceed to the scene with an estimated time of arrival (ETA) of 3 hours. The SAR coordinator stood the aircraft down, however, when Clipper Adventurer’s captain advised that the vessel was not taking on water and was in no immediate danger. Amundsen arrived on scene at 1000 MDT on 29 August after transiting 270 nautical miles and conducting hydrographic surveys on the way to ensure its own safety. While all 69 crew members remained on board the cruise ship, Amundsen took off the passengers and safely disembarked them in Kugluktuk shortly after midnight on 30 August.3

Throughout the two-day incident, the Coast Guard and JRCC provided community leaders and responders in Kugluktuk with minimal information. The community’s well organized and effective marine and ground search and rescue (SAR) responders were not mobilized, nor was its Canadian Ranger patrol or other first responders, such as the volunteer fire department. Only a couple of hours before the passengers were offloaded did the Coast Guard inform Kugluktuk’s hamlet office that they were in bound. Unfortunately, no one in the office knew where to locate the community’s emergency plan, let alone put it into operation.4 Hamlet officials quickly called Nunavut Emergency Management asking for instruction, particularly on how to handle the sudden influx of passengers given the limited resources available in the community.5 When the Coast Guard started to barge in the passengers, hastily organized community volunteers used their truck lights to illuminate the landing site, while groups were loaded onto Kugluktuk’s commercial bus and taken to the recreational complex. Meanwhile, hamlet officials scrambled to gather blankets and pillows for the passengers and asked the owner of the local Northern store to open to provide food. Fortunately for Kugluktuk’s supplies and essential services, the evacuees did not remain in the community for long—that morning a Canadian North charter arrived to take them south.6

Looking back on the incident, Kugluktuk’s SAR volunteers, Rangers, and other first responders wonder what would have happened if Clipper Adventurer had required immediate assistance. What if the weather or sea state had been less than pristine? What if the passengers had been evacuated into zodiacs or lifeboats? What if they had to establish a temporary camp on the land? What if Kugluktuk had to house, feed, and provide medical aid to passengers and crew for an extended period? What would their impact have been on the community’s limited fuel, food, and sanitation resources?7 “[The Clipper Adventurer] was kind of a wake-up call, you know. I mean, if things had worked out differently, those people may have needed a lot of help from us, they weren’t that far from the community,” explained one community responder. “We started talking about it more, what we could do, what the community could do, what it would be like.”8

Subsequent years have brought additional accidents and more vessel traffic to the waters of Inuit Nunangat—the Inuit homeland in Canada. Several tanker, resupply, and fishing vessels have run aground, hit ice, or experienced mechanical problems. In 2018, the research vessel Akademik Ioffe grounded on a rocky shoal in the Gulf of Boothia about 78 nautical miles north-northwest of Kugaaruk. While passengers were evacuated and transferred to Ioffe’s sister passenger vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov, it had been a close call.9 In its aftermath, residents of Kugaaruk asked the same questions as their counterparts in Kugluktuk, while lamenting the quality of information and communication provided to the community over the course of the incident.10 These accidents occurred against the backdrop of increased vessel traffic in Inuit Nunangat, which grew 37 percent from 2015 and 2019—a trend that is expected to continue as sea ice conditions improve.11 Uncharted seabed, the presence of ice hazards, extreme weather, inexperienced operators, and the tendency of expedition cruise vessels to leave well-known shipping routes, all increase the accident risk. While more marine traffic means more vessels of opportunity that could respond during such an event, any mass rescue operation (MRO) in the region would still be incredibly challenging. “I’m not too worried about supply ships that come up every year, even though they could run into trouble,” noted one community responder. “The cruise ships though … Obviously, we haven’t had them up here the last couple of years because of COVID. But they’ll come back and they might not know what they are doing, or have some bad luck, or go somewhere they shouldn’t. We have to keep on getting ready.”12

In this chapter, we argue that community-based Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) units, Marine SAR Societies, ground search and rescue (GSAR) teams, Canadian Ranger patrols, Inuit Guardians and Marine Monitors, Civil Air Search and Rescue Association members, volunteer fire departments, and other community-based first responders would act as valuable force multipliers both at sea and shoreside during a marine mass rescue operation. Currently, federal and territorial agencies have done little to determine the specific roles and responsibilities these groups could take on. We use the results of a mass rescue tabletop exercise involving community responders from the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut and their government partners, follow-up interviews, and additional scenario-based discussions to develop the functions that community-based organizations could perform during a major marine disaster and mass rescue operation in Inuit Nunangat/Canadian Arctic. We also provide a roadmap for how to best prepare community responders to take on these roles and to ensure that their capabilities are reflected in relevant mass rescue and emergency plans.

2 Background: Mass Rescue Operations, the Capability Gap, and the Arctic

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines an MRO as “an immediate response to a large number of persons in distress so that the capabilities normally available for search and rescue authorities are inadequate.”13 MRO s are low-probability, high-consequence scenarios that are complex and challenging wherever they occur, requiring well planned and coordinated responses from multiple organizations and governance levels, shared situational awareness, comprehensive evacuation protocols, sustained accountability of passengers, the transportation of large numbers of survivors, and, potentially, a large-scale medical response. The condition of the vessel, distance from shore, and severity of the environment make a difference during an MRO, as does the adequacy of equipment and procedures aboard the distressed vessel.14

In the North American Arctic, these challenges are exacerbated by austere environmental conditions, cold temperatures, poor charting, limited support infrastructure, distant rescue forces, inadequate local medical capacity, communications difficulties, and fewer vessels of opportunity that can be called upon for assistance.15 While a mass rescue could involve a tanker or resupply vessel, generally with 30 crew members or less on board, more worrisome is the volume of passengers that may have to be evacuated from a cruise ship. A mass rescue operation involving hundreds of crew members and passengers would seriously strain Canada’s SAR system, while the sudden influx of hundreds of evacuees would pose a significant challenge to the infrastructure and essential services of most communities in Inuit Nunangat.

Perhaps the most serious challenges are those posed by the tyranny of time and distance. Given the vast distances involved and the position of Canada’s primary SAR assets in the southern parts of the country, the arrival of search and rescue resources on-scene can take significant time. Amundsen, for instance, took almost 40 hours to arrive on-scene during the Clipper Adventurer incident. The timelines for the aerial and marine response to the Akademik Ioffe incident are even more illustrative. In this incident, the vessel ran aground at 1113 MDT and issued a distress call an hour later, which reached JRCC Trenton at 1219 MDT, allowing it to initiate a response four minutes later. It tasked CCG icebreakers Pierre Radisson and Amundsen to deploy to the scene, with ETA s of 36 and 24 hours respectively, as well as Ioffe’s sister ship, Akademik Sergey Vavilov, with an ETA of 14 hours. At 1255 it also tasked two CC-130H Hercules aircraft from Trenton, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, to respond, followed by another from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and two CH-149 Cormorant helicopters from Greenwood and Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador.16 The first Hercules was tasked at 1255 and took off from Trenton at 1359. With a maximum range of 7,222 km, it was able to fly directly to the scene, arriving at 2021 MDT, 6 hours and 22 minutes after having departed its airbase and 9 hours after Ioffe’s initial distress call. The first Cormorant was tasked at 1345, departed Gander at 1520, and with a maximum range of 1,018 km, required multiple fuel stops at Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Kuujjuaq, Quebec, before landing in Iqaluit at 0143 on 25 August, where, with its services no longer required, it remained.17 Given how long it can take icebreakers and aircraft to arrive to an incident, if one occurs within the range of community responders, they have a good chance of being the first on-scene, possibly by several hours.

The literature on mass rescue operations has highlighted the value of local first responders and spontaneous volunteers, particularly on the shoreside component of a response.18 The definition of an MRO is based on the idea of a capability gap: that ‘capabilities normally available to the SAR authorities are inadequate’—both in terms of SAR assets and shoreside emergency response resources. Mass rescues require SAR planners and coordinators to ‘think outside the box’ and identify additional capabilities to help close this gap.19 While vessels of opportunity and other government resources fall into this category, so to do local responders from an array of emergency services and spontaneous volunteers who may possess a wide range of skills and equipment.

Recent workshops and studies on mass rescue operations in the Arctic have also emphasized the potential value of local responders and volunteers, particularly if an incident were to occur near a community. Past maritime mass rescue tabletops and workshops in Alaska have explored how local communities could best be partnered with to improve shared situational awareness by leveraging local knowledge and by providing shoreside support.20 In the Canadian context, the 2014 case study completed by Liane Benoit for the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program, which involved the hypothetical sinking of a cruise ship in Cumberland Sound near Pangnirtung, Nunavut, highlighted the ability and willingness of local officials and community members to be involved in a rescue. More negatively, Benoit’s study indicated that a lack of planning and preparation, jurisdictional issues, and general confusion over mandates and approaches could undermine these efforts.21 Thus, while previous studies have suggested the potential value of community responders to an MRO in the Arctic context, they have done little to flesh out the specific functions these actors could fulfill that are reflective of their mandates, training, and capabilities.

3 Methodology: The Kitikmeot SAR Project

Exploring the roles of community-based organizations in mass rescue operations was a primary objective of the ongoing Kitikmeot Search and Rescue Project. Launched in 2019, the project focuses on identifying strengths, challenges of, and new approaches to community-based SAR operations in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region, which encompasses the communities of Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktutiak), Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, and Kugaaruk. Data gathering for the project started with interviews and focus groups with SAR responders in each community to assess local capabilities.22 This data was then used to facilitate capability-based planning exercises, which determined whether a community has the right mix of assets it requires to respond to the wide array of SAR missions it might face. During this phase of the project, community responders flagged major marine disasters and mass rescue operations as a growing concern.23

During the capacity-mapping and capability-based planning workshops in October 2019, community participants highlighted the need to elevate discussions to the regional level, where participants could share their knowledge with and learn from practitioners in other communities and discuss capacity issues with federal and territorial partners. They pointed out that a roundtable would serve as both a research opportunity and a resilience-building measure. In January 2020, we held the Kitikmeot Roundtable on SAR at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay. It brought together fifty-five community responders from the five Kitikmeot communities, academics, and representatives of federal and territorial departments and agencies to discuss best practices, lessons learned, and future requirements for search and rescue.24 Given ongoing community concerns about the roles they might have to play in a marine mass rescue, community responders also asked that the roundtable be used to conduct an MRO tabletop exercise (TTX).

Guided by a facilitator, tabletop exercises are discussion-based sessions where responders meet in informal, classroom-like settings to discuss emergency roles and to work through a particular emergency situation. In this case, roundtable participants worked through a scenario involving the grounding of an expedition cruise ship off Unahitak Island near Cambridge Bay. Chris Bianco and Jay Collins, members of the CCG Arctic Region’s Training and Exercising Industry Program, which works to improve interoperability and preparedness among key stakeholders in the event of an incident in the Canadian Arctic, facilitated the exercise. They set the scene and then moved through a series of scenario injects that gradually increased the complexity and difficulty of the rescue operation. Broken into small groups, participants worked through the basic scenario to determine responses and to work through challenges. The facilitators also encouraged participants from the other Kitikmeot communities to apply the scenario to their specific local contexts to discuss how the responses and challenges might differ. Following each scenario inject, the facilitators brought the entire group back together for a debrief.

The exercise involved representatives from the major community, territorial, and federal organizations that would be involved in a mass rescue operation in the Kitikmeot (for further discussion of these entities see Charron and Snider in this volume). Participants included members from the CCGA units in Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, and Gjoa Haven. CCGA units are made up of trained local volunteers who use their own vessels or a community vessel (such as those provided under the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program) to respond to emergencies. CCGA members receive specialized training, insurance coverage, and reimbursement for certain operational costs, but they also fundraise to purchase additional equipment. Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk have long-established Auxiliary units, while Gjoa Haven’s stood-up in 2017 as part of the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) which seeks to expand the CCGA throughout the Arctic. Members of Arctic Auxiliary units strengthen SAR operations by improving response times, serving as SAR detectives, contributing to marine safety, and, most importantly, by integrating their local and traditional knowledge and skills into the broader search and rescue system.25 In 2022, the CCGA counted 32 units in the Coast Guard’s new Arctic Region, with 451 members and 46 vessels and plans for future expansion.26

Members of each community’s all-volunteer ground search and rescue teams and SAR Committees also engaged in the TTX. While GSAR members volunteer their time and typically use their personal equipment, Nunavut Emergency Management (NEM) provides funding to cover expenses such as training, fuel, lubricants, emergency supplies, food, and equipment repair.27 In northern communities that lack a Coast Guard Auxiliary unit, marine search and rescue is often conducted by SAR Committees and GSAR team members, as is the case in Taloyoak and Kugaaruk.

Representatives from the Canadian Ranger patrols in each Kitikmeot community also shared their insights during the TTX. Canadian Rangers are part-time, non-commissioned Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reservists who serve as the “eyes, ears, and voice” of the Canadian Armed Forces in remote parts of the country “which cannot conveniently or economically be covered by other elements of the CAF.”28 They are not intended to act as combat forces and receive no tactical military training. Instead, their regular tasks include surveillance and presence patrols, collecting local data for the CAF, reporting unusual sightings, participation in community events, and assisting with domestic military operations. By virtue of their capabilities and presence, Rangers also regularly support other government agencies in preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the broad spectrum of emergency and disaster scenarios facing isolated communities.29 Further, they often serve as search and rescue volunteers who know how to work effectively as a group. When searches go on for extended periods, the search area is too vast to be covered by all-volunteer SAR teams, and/or there are insufficient community volunteers, Rangers can be formally activated by the CAF and are then considered on an official military tasking for which they are paid. The CAF provides Canadian Rangers with flexible training that is tailored to local terrain and environmental conditions but generally involves several elements directly related to SAR and emergency response capabilities: first aid, wilderness first aid, GSAR, constructing emergency airstrips on land and ice, and communications.30

Importantly for the purposes of marine mass rescue operations, Rangers have an established maritime role. The official Ranger tasking list includes coastal and inland water surveillance. Ranger patrols often employ their boats to support their monitoring of vessel traffic in the Northwest Passage during Operation NANOOK-NUNAKPUT, and during training exercises Rangers often use boats to travel between destinations. In carrying out these tasks, Rangers employ their own marine vessels, for which they receive reimbursement according to an established equipment usage rate.31

Rounding out the community-based SAR organizations at the TXX were several Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) volunteers from Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven. With funding and support from the military, CASARA supports the CAF’s SAR mission by making available private aircraft, trained volunteer crews, and spotters for military aircraft during search missions. The CASARA members from Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay have received training as aerial spotters aboard military aircraft.32

Representatives from the Cambridge Bay hamlet office, the community’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment, and its volunteer fire department and ambulance services also attended. In case of a mass rescue operation, hamlet officials, in particular, the senior administrative official and assistant senior administrative official, would be heavily involved in coordinating emergency plans and mobilizing resources. RCMP, fire, and ambulance personnel would also provide valuable human power during a mass rescue, particularly shoreside and in the community.

In some communities, Inuit Guardians and Marine Monitors constitute other local resources that could be used to respond to a mass rescue operation, though they were not represented at the Roundtable. In the Kitikmeot Region, a team of Inuit Guardians from Gjoa Haven have protected and monitored the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site and offer an emergency response capability to any accidents or SAR activities that occur in the surrounding area.33 In the Eastern Arctic, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, with the support of Parks Canada and the Government of Nunavut, has established a Guardians program to monitor and manage the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area (Lancaster Sound).34 The Nunavut Inuit Marine Monitoring Program (IMMP) is an Inuit-led initiative that aims to collect information on shipping activities in the region that is relevant and useful to communities. The IMMP employs Inuit Marine Monitors during the shipping season to observe vessel activity and report on environmental conditions and wildlife.35 During the TTX, responders were asked to consider what members of these groups could contribute, particularly in terms of improving on-scene situational awareness.

Finally, representatives from the Coast Guard, the Canadian Armed Forces, and Nunavut Emergency Management—all of which would be heavily involved in an Arctic marine disaster and mass rescue operation—also participated in the TTX. In the Kitikmeot, a marine mass rescue operation would be managed by JRCC Trenton (a CAF unit, staffed by personnel of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Coast Guard).36 The CAF bears overall responsibility for the effective operation of the federal coordinated maritime and aeronautical search and rescue system.37 During major marine and air disasters, the CAF is called upon to provide initial care and survival support, medical evacuation, and the deployment of its Major Air Disaster (MAJAID) Kits.38 The CAF was represented at the TTX by the Staff Officer Search and Rescue Readiness, 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters and by personnel from Joint Task Force North. The participation of CCG personnel in the TTX was key as the service is responsible for maritime SAR and actively engages in planning and preparing for marine disasters in the Arctic on an ongoing basis, particularly through its exercising program and crafting of the Major Maritime Disaster Contingency Plan. Lastly, Nunavut Emergency Management, which is based in Iqaluit, but would be heavily engaged in coordinating the establishment of shore facilities and casualty reception points and in mobilizing local resources, was represented at the TTX by its primary SAR trainer.39

The tabletop exercise was completed over the course of four hours. A post exercise debriefing attempted to summarize some of the key lessons learned during the exercise. Many community responders, however, indicated that they wanted more time to think through the situation and offer more concrete examples of how their organization might be able to respond. As a result, in the months after the exercise, we also conducted follow-up interviews with participants, and, in the longer term, engaged in scenario-based discussions, in which the research team inserted new injects into the basic scenario (e.g., different environmental conditions, smaller and larger vessel complements, different locations) to elicit more responses. Discussions about mass rescue operations continued during community workshops and responder interviews in 2021 and 2022. We have integrated these responses and insights into the following narrative—an attempt to prioritize unikkaaqatigiinniq (the Inuit philosophy of story-telling) to relay meaning.

4 Scenario Case Study: The Sinking of MS Arctic Explorer

In late July 2023, MS Arctic Explorer is in the middle of a first-time eastbound transit of the Northwest Passage. Sailing through Coronation Gulf, the vessel has enjoyed excellent weather and favourable ice conditions and is on schedule to arrive in the community of Cambridge Bay on the morning of 28 July. Even though new to the waters of the Canadian Arctic, the expedition’s organizers have foregone the common ‘buddy system’ which sees cruise ships pair up for mutual support. The vessel has 310 people on board, 110 crew members and 200 passengers, who range in age from 15–85.

The good fortune Arctic Explorer has enjoyed so far in terms of ice conditions ends abruptly when the presence of hard, multi-year ice forces the vessel to alter its pre-established route while transiting towards Cambridge Bay. Due to its lack of familiarity with the region, at 0833 MDT, Arctic Explorer ran aground on the southeastern point of Unahitak Island, just over 23 nautical miles from the community. The temperature is 3°C, there is a steady, cold drizzle, and a moderate wind, resulting in light chop. The ship’s captain follows the proper protocols and informs Marine Communications and Traffic Services Iqaluit, which then alerts JRCC Trenton.

Eager to get eyes on scene to verify the severity of the incident, the SAR Mission Coordinator at the JRCC in turn contacts the Cambridge Bay Coast Guard Auxiliary and tasks the unit to respond. The coordinator then tasks two Hercules aircraft from Trenton and Winnipeg to respond, with the first to arrive on scene in just over 5 hours, as well as the closest Coast Guard icebreaker, which is 20 hours away. The JRCC also notifies the Bell 212 helicopter that is often stationed in Cambridge Bay to service the North Warning System and asks it to be on standby to assist, while asking CASARA Nunavut to task two local spotters to the helicopter. Given that it is the summer months, many members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary unit are in the community rather than on the land in case their services are required. The CCGA unit leader is able to quickly gather twelve members and depart for the stricken vessel on their 28-foot, Silver Dolphin craft—obtained through the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program—and their 17-foot Boston whaler. They arrive on scene at 1000 MDT, approximately an hour and a half after Arctic Explorer ran aground, and immediately make contact with the vessel’s captain, while reporting vital information on the status of the ship and environmental conditions back to JRCC Trenton. The SAR Mission Coordinator designates the Auxiliary unit leader the on-scene coordinator, responsible for coordinating search and rescue operations on scene.

Meanwhile, the commanding officer of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group activates the Cambridge Bay Ranger Patrol, tasking them to load up the six canvas Fort McPherson tents, Coleman stoves and lanterns, camping gear, satellite phones, first aid kits, and rations provided to the unit and as much fresh water as they can carry, before heading to the incident in their personal boats. Fourteen Rangers are able to gather on short notice and depart for the scene on five boats by 1000. At the same time, the Ranger patrol in Kugluktuk is placed on standby and its leaders are able to gather 15 members on short notice. The Rangers are told to stay in the community and await further instruction. If their services are required in Cambridge Bay, they can jump on the regularly scheduled Canadian North flight between the two communities and be there in hours.

On board Arctic Explorer the crew has sounded the tanks and determined that the vessel is taking on water. Bilge pumps have been activated, but are struggling to keep up with the ingress. At 1030 MDT, two hours after running aground, the ship’s captain decides to temporarily evacuate the passengers into the ship’s zodiacs. Like most adventure cruise ships, Arctic Explorer has zodiacs on board, and crew and passengers are far more familiar with their use than the vessel’s lifeboats. The choppy waters, however, make the long zodiac ride to Cambridge Bay untenable. After the on-scene coordinator discusses the situation with the captain, members of the Cambridge Bay Auxiliary unit confer and identify a potential landing site on Unahitak Island, with a beach sloping down seaward to make the disembarking process safer, easier, and faster. Soon after, the Auxiliary vessels start to shepherd the zodiacs to the landing site.

As the first zodiacs are guided to the beach, the Canadian Rangers arrive and are briefed by the Auxiliary unit. They head to shore with the first zodiacs and, as crew members disembark passengers, the Rangers proceed to set up their MacPherson tents, use their stoves and lanterns to provide heat, and start brewing tea. The sight of the well-organized Ranger patrol wearing their bright red hoodies and quickly putting up tents and offering shelter, warmth, and hot drinks has a calming effect on the first passengers to arrive on the island. As more passengers land, they take turns warming themselves in the Ranger tents, and additional shelters are eventually provided by expedition staff from the ship. Many Rangers have first aid training, as do members of the Auxiliary, and can provide basic care to injured passengers and watch for signs of deterioration due to the environmental conditions. Through it all, the on-scene coordinator feeds information back to the JRCC, while the Rangers provide consistent situation reports to Joint Task Force North, keeping it apprised of the situation on the ground.

Since the first reports of the grounding reached them shortly after JRCC Trenton initiated its response, Nunavut Emergency Management personnel in Iqaluit have been in contact with the Senior Administrative Officer, the RCMP, and other hamlet officials in Cambridge Bay. Together they activate the community’s emergency plan, establish an emergency operations centre, and mobilize the community’s health centre, GSAR team, volunteer fire department, and ambulance services—at least those individuals not already out with the Rangers and Auxiliary. They then inform the community’s hotels and restaurants, the Co-op and Northern Store, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, and schools of the situation and of the possible influx of hundreds of passengers and crew. Previous capacity mapping has shown that, as a regional hub, Cambridge Bay has the capacity to safely accommodate, feed, and support up to 1,700 evacuees for 72 hours, although potential challenges would arise around the availability of cots and bedding, hygiene and sanitation services.40 This knowledge makes the community’s leadership far more confident about their ability to sustain evacuees from the cruise ship.

At 1330 MDT, with the wind and chop dying down, the captain makes the decision to evacuate all passengers and most of the crew to Cambridge Bay. The Rangers on Unahitak Island and the Coast Guard Auxiliary members, who have remained in their boats in case the crew remaining on the ship require assistance, confer and suggest that they could cut the distance in half by disembarking at Long Point, which is only 15 km from town and has road access. This would reduce the water distance and allow the boats to shuttle people more quickly to shore. The JRCC confirms the plan and asks the North Warning System helicopter to carry any injured or infirm from Unahitak to Long Point. While some Rangers remain on the island to assist in warming passengers, the rest of the patrol takes to their boats and starts working with the zodiacs to carry evacuees to Long Point, helping to expedite the process. At this point, several community members have also ventured to the scene in their private craft and the on-scene commander is able to direct them to assist with carrying passengers to Long Point. The CCGA boats shepherd the watercraft, while the on-scene coordinator manages the operation with the cruise ship’s captain.

Meanwhile, informed of the decision, the hamlet’s emergency operations centre mobilizes the community’s seven buses and shuttles and sends them, with RCMP escort, to the gravel pit just off the beach at Long Point. To provide extra assistance, they ask the community’s GSAR team and ambulance services to drive out to the landing site as well. They then make a plan to send the passengers directly to the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. This will be the major muster and reception point in the community. Several desks are quickly set up at the entrance to the station and run by members of the volunteer fire department, who are told how to account for the passengers and what essential information to gather as they check them in—for instance, if any immediately require prescription medications that they were forced to leave on the ship. Hamlet officials have also been in touch with the expedition company that has chartered Arctic Explorer and, with their direction and funds, have organized for warm food and beverages to be brought to the research station. While some of the 44 beds in the station are being used by researchers, many are open, and plans are made for elderly and infirm passengers to be taken to these accommodation units as soon as they are fed.

As the Ranger boats and zodiacs bring the first wave of passengers to Long Point, the community GSAR team and ambulance staff help to disembark them and quickly guide them to the awaiting buses and shuttles. Informed that buses would be waiting for them, expedition staff have already devised a plan to account for passengers at the bus doors, which they can then compare with the check-ins done by the community volunteers at the research station. As the first passengers make the short ride to Cambridge Bay, the first Hercules flies over the scene. The Rangers and zodiacs head back to Unahitak for the next wave of passengers.

As the passengers are dropped off at the research station, they are registered by the community volunteers, enjoy a hot meal, and are allowed to explore the large facility. To avoid swamping the station as more passengers arrive, hamlet officials and other community volunteers take small groups to the community hall and the school gyms to await their flight home, which, if weather prevails, should come in early the next morning.

When the final group of passengers is registered at the research station, one of the first evacuees informs an expedition staff member that she cannot find an elderly friend she had met on the voyage. They had been separated when he went back to his cabin to retrieve medication during the initial zodiac evacuation from Arctic Explorer. A quick check of the lists of passengers registered at Long Point and at the research station show the passenger to be missing, while the crew that have remained on board the cruise ship also cannot locate him. This information is communicated to the Auxiliary unit, which quickly works with the Hercules overhead to begin a marine search, while the Rangers begin a search on Unahitak Island, and the GSAR team begins a shoreline search at Long Point. The missing passenger’s information is also provided to the community radio, which issues an alert to Cambridge Bay residents—if he made it into town, he will be recognized before too long. It is the Rangers who find the man, however. One of the last people to be brought from the ship to Unahitak Island, he had decided to go for a quick walk along the shore, only to badly hurt his ankle. The Rangers quickly stabilize him and transport him back to Cambridge Bay in one of their boats, in time to be flown south with the rest of the passengers.

5 Assessment and Analysis: Community Responders and Mass Rescue Operations

The Kitikmeot SAR Project’s mass rescue TTX and discussions with community responders highlight the sophistication of their understandings of and plans for MRO s and their willingness to provide assistance. If an incident occurred close enough to their communities, not only would they respond, but they would likely be the first responders. One member of the Cambridge Bay Ranger Patrol explained that, “If a major emergency happened … people would come from the community to help. That’s just the way it is up here.”41 In discussing a potential marine disaster off the shores of their community, another TTX participant noted that, “We may not be happy that you’ve brought this trouble, but we will try our best to help you out of it.”42 A community responder offered an explanation for this willingness to help, the sentiment of which was shared by many: “We have a responsibility for what happens on the Northwest Passage. These are our waters. We will protect them. We will help the people using them. It’s simple.”43

In terms of specific roles and responsibilities that community-based groups could play in a mass rescue, the first is information sharing. The local knowledge and information that community-based groups could provide on geography, environmental conditions, and community resources would be absolutely vital and could save lives. During the TTX, Cambridge Bay participants provided information on the geography of Unahitak Island, environmental and sea conditions, the safest evacuation routes, where passengers could be safely disembarked, and local resources that could be mobilized on the shoreside. They used their local knowledge to draw up a plan to move passengers from Unahitak to Long Point, rather than directly to Cambridge Bay, which would have involved more time on the water and a longer evacuation process. In a subsequent scenario-based discussion that focused on a cruise ship running aground beyond the range of community boats, community responders were able to identify a sheltered cove close to the incident site with a number of hunting cabins—a place of safety in which crew members and expedition staff could easily establish a temporary camp to await rescue.44 “We know the local weather,” explained one participant in the TTX. “We know the conditions. We know the water and ice, the rocks. We know how the ice works. We know the best routes to take, the fastest, the safest routes to take. We know things that you can’t get from a GPS or a weather report. We know how the tides work … You have to listen.”45

The information-sharing function of community responders is closely related to another important role: their ability to improve situational awareness. During the TTX, the Coast Guard Auxiliary unit was able to provide JRCC Trenton with a comprehensive visual assessment and ongoing appraisal of the situation: the condition of the ship, the conduct of its crew and captain, the weather and sea state, and on-scene SAR actions. During an actual mass rescue operation, this kind of sustained situational awareness would be vital to a SAR Mission Coordinator. One Ranger noted that a mass rescue operation would require patrol members to fulfill their primary function: acting as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the Canadian Armed Forces. Another Ranger noted that the protection of their communities is one of their most important responsibilities, so they would want to get eyes on the incident to assess whether there had been an oil or fuel spill, which they could then report to the proper authorities. In a mass rescue situation in which it might take hours for federal assets to arrive to an incident, the on-scene situational awareness provided by community responders would be invaluable.

During the TTX, the leader of the Coast Guard Auxiliary unit also took on the essential role of on-scene coordinator. Usually this is the person in charge of the first rescue vessel to arrive on the scene, until relieved by a more capable vessel or unit. This individual will coordinate the scene, maintain communications with the JRCC and enact its instructions, share on-scene search actions, resources, and recommendations, relay the status of survivors, and generally support the commander of the vessel in distress. This individual or someone designated by them (e.g., a small-craft marshal), would also be in charge of directing spontaneous volunteers—for instance, additional community boats that might arrive on scene looking to assist.46 The ability of spontaneous volunteers to provide assistance during a disaster event relies on the “capacity of agencies and authorities to integrate them quickly and effectively into a coordinated strategy.”47 Given their familiarity with their fellow community members, a local on-scene coordinator would be able to effectively coordinate their activities. Even in cases where a community responder is not the on-scene coordinator, directing community volunteers may still be best executed by any Auxiliary members present. “Other community members know who we are and what we do. They’d be willing to follow our lead, our instructions. Directing them would be an important role for us,” concluded one Auxiliarist.48

Over the course of the TTX and subsequent discussions, community responders elaborated on several other key on-scene tasks they could undertake. They could retrieve people from the water, shepherd lifeboats or zodiacs to safe havens or to the community, help in offloading and tracking passengers, search for missing passengers, establish a camp to provide warmth and shelter, give first aid, provide predator control, and have a positive influence on morale by reassuring evacuees that the situation is under control. Further, if there are injured or at-risk passengers, community boats could be used to rapidly bring them to the community for medical treatment and evacuation. Even when Coast Guard icebreakers or other vessels of opportunity are on scene, small community watercraft could still play important SAR roles. One common MRO coordination practice is to establish a ‘cordon’ to avoid vessels entering areas in which they would be of minimal assistance or do harm. The cordon is generally a circle of ships centred on the vessel in distress. If there are larger vessels to receive people, the cordon will work like a spoked wheel, with rescue ships taking up position at the spokes, and smaller craft—such as community boats—ferrying passengers from the vessel in distress or lifeboats to these receiving craft.49

With the expert input of Coast Guard SAR specialists, community responders are sure that they could develop even more potential on-scene roles. If expected to take on these roles, however, community responders would also like plans in place to address the physical and mental toll of responding to an MRO, particularly a mass casualty event. Inuit SAR responders have consistently cited lack of access to mental health supports and critical incident stress management as a key gap that needs to be addressed.50 Plans for MRO s should consider how to provide community responders—both on-scene and shoreside—the mental and physical health supports they require.

Community-based organizations and volunteers would play a leading role in shoreside operations during a mass rescue, which are always complex and demanding, and require extensive coordination between federal, territorial/provincial, and municipal agencies, the JRCC, and cruise/expedition companies.51 These operations rely on effective local contingency plans developed by territorial/provincial emergency management organizations. TTX participants noted that, in the case of Nunavut, emergency management personnel are stationed in Iqaluit, so much of the responsibility for a shoreside response would fall on local shoulders. Local authorities would need to establish a landing site or casualty reception point in a secure location where rescue craft can efficiently and safely disembark evacuated passengers and crew ashore, emergency services can be provided, and where documentation and accountability procedures can be undertaken. Evacuees may need to be provided local transport, shelter, medical support, food, water, dry clothing, and sanitation services, while individuals may have a wide array of special needs and requirements, such as prescription medication and mobility aids.52 Working with vessel operators and/or cruise/expedition companies, local authorities must also implement a system that can track passengers from ‘ship to shore to south.’ These requirements impose high demands on local resources, need a great deal of human power, and require a whole-of-community approach. While Cambridge Bay might have the ability to meet many of these demands given its size, resources, and pool of potential responders, its health centre and volunteer ambulance services would quickly be overwhelmed if there were substantial injuries or hypothermia cases. Participants from other communities highlighted that they would struggle to transport, shelter, feed, and generally accommodate hundreds or even dozens of evacuees. They would have to get creative. “Local plans have to be strong, because we all won’t have the resources of Cambridge Bay. We need to really plan for how to deal with this. Where to put people. How to feed them. How to move them. How to get more community supplies when they are gone. We will try our best.”53

6 Discussion: Getting Ready

Is the kind of response envisioned by community responders participating in the Kitikmeot SAR Project possible at this time? Certainly, the expansion of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in the Arctic increases its likelihood. The training, community SAR boats, and equipment provided to Auxiliary units would assist in the conduct of an MRO. Likewise, the existing SAR and emergency response skills of Ranger patrols, GSAR teams, volunteer firefighters, and the other first responders discussed in this chapter, could all be used, both on the water and shoreside. Continuing the training and support for these groups is one vital first step in ensuring that they could assist in a mass rescue. Still, more is required. The following represent several options to better prepare for marine MRO s in Inuit Nunangat and to ensure that the roles envisioned in this case study can become a reality.

6.1 Putting the Pieces Together: An Inuit Nunangat MRO Planning Committee

In their chapter on the challenges of mass rescue operations, Button and Gorgol highlight that “in responding to any MRO event, there is some level of chaos. The goal is to reduce that chaos; one way of doing so is by developing comprehensive and shared MRO plans.” Given the complexity of these events and the array of actors involved, effective plans are essential for effective coordination, communication, and interaction.54 Plans should develop roles and responsibilities during a response, document additional resources that could be used to fill the capability gap, describe how the command, control, and communication network will function, identify places of safety, and establish the requirements of local contingency plans.55 To ensure effectiveness, it is vital that the people responsible for implementing the plan are also involved in its crafting.

The International Maritime Rescue Federation presents the MRO planning process as a “jigsaw puzzle.” Each stakeholder has an “important role in the response, with their own emergency response plans setting policy, as well as providing specific roles and responsibilities.” The MRO planning process must determine how these stakeholders—each a different piece to the puzzle with their own plans, procedures, and capabilities—best fit together. “The aim is not to produce a whole new plan, but to link the existing plans together, and to do so efficiently, so that there are no gaps and no overlaps—that is, nothing is overlooked, and two organisations are not trying to do the same thing.” Key to this is each stakeholder understanding how they fit into the plan and, as importantly, feeling ownership over the plan—understanding their tasks and responsibilities and accepting them.56 A community responder from the Kitikmeot captured this idea well when he said, “[W]e already feel responsible for these waters, so give us some responsibility for the plan. If we are going to be involved, and we will be, work with us to figure out how. Give us some ownership over the planning.”57

To prepare for mass rescue operations in the region, we recommend the establishment of an Inuit Nunangat MRO Planning Committee with representatives from all government agencies, industry partners, and community-based organizations that might be involved in such an operation.58 This committee would develop the actions, roles, and responsibilities that community-based groups could take on during a mass rescue and situate them within the broader MRO plan. At the same time, community responders would be able to share their insights to shape and develop the approaches and priorities of government agencies and industry partners.59 Together, they could identify capability gaps, the means of filling those gaps, and how to best mobilize and coordinate these resources, particularly at the community level. Uniquely, given the resupply challenges for communities in Inuit Nunangat, the planning committee should also consider how to replenish supplies and restore essential services after an evacuation into a community. The planning undertaken by this committee should be a “cyclical and continuing process”—the plan must be a living document rooted in constant improvement.60

The establishment of an Inuit Nunangat MRO Planning Committee would reflect two guiding principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit—aajiiqatigiinigniq and piliriqatigiingniq. Piliriqatigiingniq is the concept of equal collaborative relationships or working together for a common purpose, while aajiiqatigiinniq means decision-making through discussion and consensus—building agreement through a fully inclusive and participatory group process.61 The Planning Committee would bring actors together in the spirit of piliriqatigiingniq to strengthen relationships and pool collective knowledge and resources, which will foster discussion and build consensus on MRO challenges, requirements, and best practices. A continuously improved MRO plan forged through aajiiqatigiinigniq and piliriqatigiingniq would go far to preparing Inuit Nunangat for a marine disaster.

6.2 Testing the Plan: Inuit Nunangat Training and Exercise Program

The work done by the Inuit Nunangat MRO Planning Committee must be followed by regular training. The MRO plan “will be useless unless responders know what it is, how they fit into it, and what it expects them to do,” concludes the International Maritime Rescue Federation.62 Community-based groups should be provided with training on how to accomplish the roles outlined for them in the plan, on how to work with strangers, the information required by the JRCC, effective communications, on-scene SAR operations, and how to establish a shoreside landing site and reception centre. This kind of skill-building should be part of the annual training provided to CCGA units and Ranger patrols and can be delivered as required to other community-based organizations. Auxiliary unit leaders and Ranger patrol leadership could also be trained to assume the role of on-scene coordinator and then pass this knowledge down to other team members.

MRO planning and training must be tested and validated through tabletop exercises, functional exercises, which have personnel perform their duties in a simulated operational environment, and full-scale exercises, which are as close to a real operation as possible. Since the inception of Operation Nanook (first an annual event and now the name given to all CAF training activities in the North) in 2007, the CAF has worked with territorial partners to conduct several mass rescue exercises. Likewise, since 2019, CCG Arctic Region’s Training and Exercise Program has worked with expedition cruise operators, shipping companies, classification societies, and domestic and international SAR partners, in an effort to identify and navigate the challenges facing MRO s in the region. Moving forward, these exercises should be expanded to include more community-based organizations whenever possible and ensure they also focus on shoreside operations.

Community responders in the Kitikmeot SAR Project consistently highlight the need for more exercises that would allow community organizations to practice their horizontal and vertical coordination, collaboration, and communication. Coordination and cooperation between community groups remains informal and often limited at the community-level, and there is confusion about respective missions, roles, responsibilities, and capabilities—even though many community responders serve in multiple groups.63 Further, while Kitikmeot SAR Project participants understand that they would have to follow the direction of the JRCC, the CAF, or Nunavut Emergency Management during a mass rescue operation, they also think that exercises are required to work through any possible barriers to cooperation and to teach these external agencies to listen to and learn from community responders. Without opportunities for joint exercises, trying to coordinate the various elements of the response in a high-pressure, time-sensitive situation such as an MRO would be stressful and detract from efficiency of effort. Regular exercises between community groups and other governmental agencies can test plans and training, facilitate cooperation and coordination, and improve operational effectiveness.

To facilitate MRO training, the Coast Guard Arctic Region and the CCGA should also consider working together to create a Canadian version of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Mass Rescue Operations Specialist (AMROS) program. The program was established to provide for the surge capacity of trained personnel required for a successful MRO. The AMROS Performance Qualification Standard (PQS) provides a roadmap for Auxiliary members who aspire to earn the certification, and includes specialization training in planning, SAR operations, landing site management, and reception.64 Such an initiative could create a cadre of well-trained and prepared Auxiliarists ready to support MRO s throughout Inuit Nunangat.

6.3 A Holistic Solution: Inuit Nunangat Community Public Safety Officer Program

The community responders involved in the Kitikmeot SAR Program have highlighted another possible solution to many of the safety challenges facing the communities of Inuit Nunangat: a tailor-made community public safety office (CPSO) program. Modelled off the original Alaska Village Public Safety Officer program launched in 1979, a CPSO program would provide communities with full-time officers responsible for marine safety, fire prevention, emergency medical assistance, SAR, and all-hazards emergency management.

Investing in such a program would not only improve the overall safety and strengthen the resilience of northern communities, it would also help the Government of Canada to prepare for potential marine disasters and mass rescue operations across the region. These officers could work on the local contingency plans required for an effective shoreside response and ensure that they fit with the broader MRO plan developed by the Inuit Nunangat MRO Planning Committee. They could undertake a wide variety of other ongoing activities to help prepare for an MRO: the identification of local resources that could be mobilized to close the capability gap, facilitation of community-based MRO training and exercises, and development of lines of communication and coordination between various community groups and external agencies. During an actual mass rescue operation, the CPSO could be the primary point of contact at the community-level, mobilizing and coordinating the shoreside response. While the CPSO’s primary purpose would not be responding to mass rescue operations, their skills and capabilities would certainly serve as a force multiplier in the event one should occur.

This initiative would also fit with the commitment to develop new approaches to fund and administer federal policies, programs, services, and initiatives that “support community and individual wellbeing throughout Inuit Nunangat.” The new Inuit Nunangat Policy, released in April 2022, highlights how this geographic, cultural, and political region includes more than half of Canada’s coastline “and major marine areas, including land fast sea ice, inland waters and offshore areas.” Co-managing safety and security programs through a CPSO model would affirm Canada’s respect for Inuit rights and co-management, support Inuit self-determination within the context of specific program and policy areas, and promote greater self-reliance throughout Inuit Nunangat.65

7 Conclusion

Preparing for marine disasters and mass rescue operations must be a priority for Canada moving forward. Although past marine accidents in Inuit Nunangat have come close to requiring mass rescue operations, favourable conditions and good fortune have prevailed in each case. As vessel traffic increases, however, the risk grows—as does political and public attention to the issue. The Arctic and Northern Policy Framework (ANPF) commits “to increasing Search and Rescue reaction and responsiveness to emergencies for Arctic residents and visitors,”66 and Inuit have been consistent and clear in their desire for capacity-building in the areas of SAR and emergency management. The Inuit Circumpolar Council, in its 2019 written submission to the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic, asserted that “Inuit are always the first to respond to an emergency, and in doing so with limited training and resources they risk their own safety and security.” Accordingly, it urged the federal government “to enhance search and rescue and emergency protection infrastructure and training in Inuit communities.”67 The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) partner chapter to the ANPF insists that “Inuit are the stewards of the land, and given appropriate infrastructure, will continue as the principal players and first responders in Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and security.”68 These ideas must animate new approaches to mass rescue that more fully integrate and leverage community capacity throughout the region. Our proposals for an Inuit Nunangat MRO Planning Committee, Training and Exercise Program, and Community Public Safety Officer program fit with federal, territorial, and Inuit priorities. These initiatives will support community-based organizations in responding to any marine disasters that occur off their shores. In doing so, they provide one solution to the tyranny of time and distance that makes mass rescue operations so challenging in the Arctic.


This work is the result of the Kitikmeot Search and Rescue Project supported by the Marine Environment Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security Program (MINDS), Irving Shipbuilding Inc., the North American Defence and Security Network (NAADSN), and the Canada Research Chairs program. We are grateful to the members of the community-based search and rescue organizations in Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, and Kugaaruk and to all who participated in the Kitikmeot Roundtable on Search and Rescue (see for a full list).


Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), Marine Transportation Safety Investigation Report M10H006 (Gatineau: Transportation Safety Board, 2012), See also E.J. Stewart and J. Dawson, “A Matter of Good Fortune? The Grounding of the Clipper Adventurer in the Northwest Passage, Arctic Canada,” Arctic 64:2 (2011): 263–267,


TSB 2012 (n 1).




Jane George, “Nunavut Communities Fear Disasters from Air and Sea,” Nunatsiaq News, 26 August 2011.


Liane Benoit, Perspectives on Emergency Response in the Canadian Arctic: Sinking of the MS Arctic Sun in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut. Part C: Findings of the Hypothetical Scenario (Toronto: Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program, 2014), 14,


TSB 2012 (n 1); Jane George, “Stranded Passengers Find Warmth in Kugluktuk,” Nunatsiaq News, 30 August 2010.


Kugluktuk Coast Guard Auxiliary, Ranger Patrol, and GSAR team, interview with Peter Kikkert, October 2019, Kugluktuk, Nunavut.


Community responder from Kugluktuk, interview with by Peter Kikkert, January 2022.


TSB, Marine Transportation Safety Investigation Report M18C0225 (Gatineau: TSB, 2021),


Kugaaruk Ground Search and Rescue team members and Canadian Ranger Patrol, interview with Peter Kikkert, January 2020, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.


N. van Luijk, J. Holloway, N. Carter, J. Dawson, and A. Orawiec, Gap Analysis: Shipping and Coastal Management in Inuit Nunangat. A Report Prepared for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (Ottawa: ITK, 2021); Jackie Dawson, L. Pizzolato, S.E.L. Howell, L. Copeland, and M.E. Johnston, “Temporal and Spatial Patterns of Ship Traffic in the Canadian Arctic from 1990 to 2015,” Arctic 71:1 (2018):15–26; Jackie Dawson, L. Copeland, O. Mussells, and N. Carter, Shipping Trends in Nunavut 1990–2015: A Report Prepared for the Nunavut General Monitoring Program (Ottawa, Canada and Iqaluit, Nunavut, 2017).


Kugluktuk Ground Search and Rescue Team and Marine Rescue, interview with Peter Kikkert, January 2022.


International Maritime Organization (IMO), Guidance for Mass Rescue Operations (London: IMO, 2003),; IMO, International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue IAMSAR Manual (London: IMO, 2016).


See, for instance, Richard Button and Thomas Gorgol, “Understanding the Challenge: Mass Rescue Operations at Sea,” in Cooperation and Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region, eds., Myron H. Nordquist, John Norton Moore, and Ronán Long (Leiden: Brill Nijhoff, 2020), 356–390; United States Coast Guard Research and Development Center, Mass Rescue Operations Scoping Study, Final Report (April 2007); International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF), The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project. The Challenge: Acknowledging the Problem, and Mass Rescue Incident Types (IMRF, 2019),


See, for instance, Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC), Rapporteur’s Report Arctic-Related Incidents of National Significance Workshop on Maritime Mass Rescue Operations, ADAC, 21–22 June 2016,; Rasmus Dahlberg, Morten Thanning Vendelø, Birgitte Refslund Sørensen and Kristian Cedervall Lauta, “Offshore is Onshore: Scalability, Synchronization, and Speed of Decision in Arctic SAR,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies 3:1 (2020): 157–168,; Rasmus Dahlberg, “Who is in the Center? A Case Study of a Social Network in an Emergency Management Organization,” International Journal of Emergency Services 6:1 (2017): 52–66; James D. Ford and Dylan G. Clark, “Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change Along Canada’s Arctic Coast: The Importance of Search and Rescue,” Marine Policy 108 (2019): 1–4,; Floris Goerlandt and Ronald Pelot, “An Exploratory Application of the International Risk Governance Council Risk Governance Framework to Shipping Risks in the Canadian Arctic,” in Governance of Arctic Shipping: Rethinking Risk, Human Impacts and Regulation, eds., Aldo Chircop, Floris Goerlandt, Claudio Aporta and Ronald Pelot (Cham: Springer, 2020), 15–41; Peter Kikkert and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, “Search and Rescue, Climate Change, and the Expansion of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Inuit Nunangat / the Canadian Arctic,” Canadian Journal of Emergency Management 1:2 (July 2021): 26–62; Kristian C. Lauta, Morten Thanning Vendelø, Bbirgitte Refslund Sørensen and Rasmus Dahlberg, “Conceptualizing Cold Disasters: Disaster Risk Governance at the Arctic edge,” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 31 (2018): 1276–1282,; Rebecca Pincus, “Large-scale Disaster Response in the Arctic: Are We Ready? Lessons from the Literature on Wicked Policy Problems,” in Arctic Yearbook 2015, eds., Lassi Heininen, Heather Exner-Pirot, and Joël Plouffe, 1–13; Johannes Schmied et al., “Maritime Operations and Emergency Preparedness in the Arctic: Competence Standards for Search and Rescue Operations Contingencies in Polar Waters,” in The Interconnected Arctic—UArctic Congress 2016, eds., Kirsi Latola and Hannele Savela (Cham: Springer, 2017), 245–255; Timothy William James Smith, Search and Rescue in the Arctic: Is the U.S. Prepared (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2017); United States Coast Guard, Mass Rescue in Polar Waters: Case Study, Office of Search and Rescue CG-534 (2010). See also Natalia Andreassen, Odd Jarl Borch, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Sergey Markov, “Emergency Management in Maritime Mass Rescue Operations: The Case of the High Arctic,” in Sustainable Shipping in a Changing Arctic, eds., Lawrence P. Hildebrand, Lawson W. Brigham and Tafsir M. Johansson (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018).


TSB 2021 (n 9). The TSB report states: “Two hours following the initiation of its SAR response, as JRCC staff became concerned that the Akademik Ioffe was attempting to refloat itself and might have to be abandoned by its complement, the MAJAID contingency plan was activated. The MAJMAR contingency plan was activated 37 minutes later. Because all aeronautical SAR assets were stationed at their respective airbases in Winnipeg, Trenton, Gander, and Greenwood, multi-hour flights were forecasted and extra relief flight crews and SAR specialists were paged from their homes.”


Id. Amundsen deployed its Bell 429 helicopter at 0741 to oversee the evacuation of Ioffe’s passengers to Vavilov and the icebreaker arrived on scene at 0758.


See, for instance, Joshua Gilbert, The United States Coast Guard and Spontaneous Volunteers: Collaboration or Chaos During Disaster Response (MA Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2021); Button and Gorgol (n 14); and the various chapters in IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project (IMRF, 2019),


IMRF, The Challenge (n 13); IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project: Mass Rescue Operations: The Capability Gap (IMRF, 2019),


Alaska Mass Rescue Operation (MRO) Exercise 2009, 15 July 2009,; Arctic Domain Awareness Center, Rapporteur’s Report Arctic-Related Incidents of National Significance Workshop on Maritime Mass Rescue Operations, 21–22 June 2016, Anchorage, Alaska,


Liane Benoit, Perspectives on Emergency Response in the Canadian Arctic: Sinking of the MSArctic Sun in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut. Parts A, B, C (Toronto: Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program, 2014),


The Kitikmeot SAR Project was based on a community-collaborative approach that emphasizes the co-creation of knowledge between community responders, government practitioners, and a diverse and interdisciplinary team of researchers. With the Kitikmeot SAR groups’ support, the Nunavut Research Institute (license 04 009 20R-M) and the St. Francis Xavier University Research Ethics Board (Certification: 23923) approved the project. This project was guided by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s Inuit Research Strategy, particularly its core emphasis on respectful and beneficial research for all Inuit, on building Inuit research capacity, and on ensuring that funding aligns with Inuit research priorities. Inuit leadership shaped and drove the development and execution of every aspect of the project. See Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), National Inuit Strategy on Research (Ottawa: ITK, 2018). The research project also followed the principles of ownership, control, access, and possession (OCAP), and was carried out in accordance with Chapter 9 of the TCPS2 Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans: Research Involving First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada,


See Peter Kikkert and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, “‘A Great Investment in Our Communities’: Strengthening Nunavut’s Whole of Society Search and Rescue Capabilities,” Arctic 74:3 (September 2021): 258–275,


Peter Kikkert, Angulalik Pedersen and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Kitikmeot Roundtable on Search and Rescue: Summary Report / Qitiqmiuni Katimatjutauyuq Qiniqhiayinit Annaktinillu – Naunaitkutat, Kitikmeot SAR Project, 2020,


See Kikkert and Lackenbauer (n 15).


Christian Bertelsen, Regional Director, Arctic Programs, Arctic Region, Canadian Coast Guard, Presentation to Advancing Collaboration in Canada-U.S. Arctic Regional Security III (ACCUSARS III) Virtual Conference: The Eastern North American Arctic Regions, 24–25 March 2022.


See Kikkert and Lackenbauer (n 23).


Defence Administrative Orders and Directives (DAOD) 2020–2, “Canadian Rangers,” Department of National Defence, 21 May 2015,


See, for example, P. Whitney Lackenbauer, The Canadian Rangers: A Living History (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012); P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Peter Kikkert, Measuring the Success of the Canadian Rangers (Report to the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, released October 2020) (Peterborough: North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network, 2020),; P. Whitney Lackenbauer, The Canadian Armed Forces’ Eyes, Ears, and Voice in Remote Regions: Selected Writings on the Canadian Rangers (Peterborough: North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network, 2022).


Peter Kikkert and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, “The Canadian Rangers: Strengthening Community Disaster Resilience in Canada’s Remote and Isolated Communities,” The Northern Review 51 (2021): 1–33,


See Peter Kikkert and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, “Bolstering Community-Based Marine Capabilities in the Canadian Arctic,” Canadian Naval Review 15:2 (2019): 11–16.


Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, “What We Do,” CASARA, n.d.,


Kikkert and Lackenbauer (n 31).


Eilis Quinn, “Inuit Association Gets $900,000 to Monitor Marine Protected Area in Arctic Canada,” Eye on the Arctic, 19 July 2018,


Erin Abou-Abssi, “A New Way to Track Arctic Vessels, Oceans North,” Oceans North, 11 January 2018,; Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Departmental Plan 2019–20 (Government of Canada, 2019),


Royal Canadian Air Force, “An Overview of Our Search and Rescue Aircraft,” Government of Canada, National Defence, Backgrounder, last modified 17 January 2022, The RCAF’s primary SAR squadrons are: 442 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron/19 Wing Comox, BC; 435 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron/17 Wing Winnipeg, MB; 424 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron/8 Wing Trenton, ON; 413 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron/14 Wing Greenwood, NS; 103 (Rescue) Squadron/9 Wing Gander, NF.


Royal Canadian Air Force, “Search and Rescue,” Government of Canada, last modified 20 January 2022,


The RCAF has 4 MAJAID Kits and one training kit. Each can be air dropped and contain tents, sleeping bags, clothing, medical supplies, heaters, generators, water, and rations to support 80 people for up to 24 hours (so this response could support 400 people for 24 hrs, or 80 people for upwards of 5 days). See Department of National Defence, “Operation NANOOK,” Government of Canada, last modified 14 July 2022,; Richard Lawrence, “OPERATION NANOOK - EXERCISE SOTERIA (MAJOR AIR DISASTER - MAJAID),” Esprit de Corps, 11 October 2018,


JRCC Trenton, Trenton Search and Rescue Region: Major Maritime Disaster Contingency Plan (Trenton: JRCC, 2011).


Task Force Nunavut, Hamlet of Cambridge Bay: Capacity Analysis, Department of National Defence, Operation NUNALIVUT 2018.


Cambridge Bay Canadian Ranger, interview with Peter Kikkert, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, April 2019.


Community participant, Kitikmeot Roundtable on Search and Rescue 2020, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, January 2020.


Kugluktuk Ground Search and Rescue and Marine Rescue, interview with Peter Kikkert, February 2022.


Kugluktuk Canadian Ranger Patrol and Marine Rescue members, interview with Peter Kikkert, February 2021.


Community participant, Kitikmeot Roundtable on Search and Rescue 2020, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, January 2020.


IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project: The On Scene Coordinator (IMRF, 2019),


International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies cited in Gilbert (n 18).


Cambridge Bay Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit member, interview with Peter Kikkert, August 2021.


IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project: The Use of Surface Units (IMRF, 2019),


See Kikkert et al. (n 24).


JRCC Trenton (n 39).


Button and Gorgol (n 14); IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project: Maritime / shoreside coordination (IMRF, 2019),


Kugluktuk Ground Search and Rescue and Marine Rescue member, interview with Peter Kikkert, February 2022.


Button and Gorgol (n 14), p. 371.


Id., 356–390.


IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project: General Planning Guidance (IMRF, 2019),; IMRF, The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project: Complex Incident Planning: Ownership of Plans (IMRF, 2019), A place of safety is defined in the IAMSAR Manual (n 13) as “a location where rescue operations are considered to terminate; where the survivors’ safety of life is no longer threatened and where their basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met; and, a place from which transportation arrangements can be made for the survivors’ next or final destination. A place of safety may be on land, or it may be on board a rescue unit or other suitable vessel or facility at sea that can serve as a place of safety until the survivors are disembarked at their next destination.”


Kugluktuk Ground Search and Rescue and Marine Rescue member, interview with Peter Kikkert, February 2022.


Such a committee could focus on both marine and aerial mass rescue operations, the latter of which also poses an array of unique and serious challenges.


For instance, the committee’s work could be used to inform the SAR related procedures contained in Polar Waters Operational Manuals, which are required under the Polar Code, particularly the required content on emergency response coordination and evacuation. See, for instance, International Chamber of Shipping and Oil Companies International Marine Forum, Guidelines for the Development of a Polar Water Operational Manual (London: ICS, 2019).


IMRF General Planning Guidance (n 56), p. 6.


“Aajiiqatigiingniq: An Inuit Research Methodology,” Aqqiumavvik Society, n.d.,


IMRF General Planning Guidance (n 56), p. 6.


See Kikkert and Lackenbauer (n 15); Kikkert et al. (n 24).


United States Coast Guard, Auxiliary Mass Rescue Operations Specialist (AMROS), Performance Qualification Standards, (United States Coast Guard, 27 June 2017),


Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), “Inuit Nunangat Policy,” Government of Canada, last modified 21 April 2022,


CIRNAC, “Arctic and Northern Policy Framework: Safety, Security, and Defence Chapter,” Government of Canada, Government of Canada, last modified 19 September 2019,


Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada (ICC), Submission to the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic Regarding the Arctic Policy Framework and International Priorities (ICC, 2019),


Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Arctic and Northern Policy Framework: Inuit Nunangat (ITK, 2019),

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Shipping in Inuit Nunangat

Governance Challenges and Approaches in Canadian Arctic Waters

Series:  Publications on Ocean Development, Volume: 101


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