Giving your passengers a close look at a glacier calving may satisfy them but get too close can be fatal. But how close is too close and how far is safe asks Norway’s Accident Investigation Board, AIBN, in its report on the death of a tourist in Ymerbukten Bay in the Isfjord on Svalbard.
AIBN suggests three key issues: Tour guides may have responded to expectations raised by photographs in the tour company’s brochure; it was difficult for tour guides to estimate their distance from the glacier; safe distances set by the local authority did not take into account the circumstances of this particular calving.
)n 21 August 2012 at about 1006, as part of a 12-day cruise aboard the Polaris I, passengers and guides were on a daytrip in rubber dinghies in Ymerbukten bay in the Isfjord on Svalbard. While the dinghies were near the Esmarkbreen glacier, a large piece of the glacier front calved off and hit very shallow water, effectively dry land. Lumps of ice flew across the water with tremendous force. A passenger on board one of the dinghies was hit by lumps of ice on the back of her neck and head. She died almost instantly.
In the incident in this video, in the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska, a woman’s leg was broken by a piece of ice ‘the size of a softball’.
The AIBN and the French Marine Accident Investigation Office (BEAmer) have jointly investigated the accident. AIBN has been the lead investigating body.
The safety investigation points to three factors:
- Through the advertising brochure and the safety instructions, the tour operator may have put the guides in a position where they had to deal with conflicting expectations. It was left to the guides to consider the passengers’ expectations of getting close to the glacier front in relation to the instructions on minimum safety distance, based on their own experience and understanding of the situation. If the guides intentionally chose to move closer to the glacier front than 200 metres, the considerations described above could have influenced their decision.
- The guides judged the distance to the glacier front by eye only, which proves to be difficult. The tour operator had not made sufficient arrangements for the guides to use adequate methods to determine the actual distance to the glacier front. There is a need for guidelines on practical methods by which guides and ships’ crews can obtain information about the actual distance to a glacier front. This need is assumed to apply to several tour operators, and the AIBN has submitted a safety recommendation in this connection.
- The tour operator’s instructions to keep a minimum distance of 200 metres to the glacier front corresponded with the Governor of Svalbard’s recommendations. The consequences of subaerial calving hitting dry land are not included in the Governor’s assessment of the minimum safety distance to the glacier front. The Governor of Svalbard has initiated measures to describe this phenomenon and to consider whether the previous minimum safety distance recommendation should be changed.
- Safety recommendation:
- Safety Recommendation MARINE No 2013/13TThe tour operator had instructed the guides to observe the minimum safety distance of 200 metres, but had left it up to the guides to find practical ways of ensuring that the limit was complied with. The guides judged the distance to the glacier front by measure by eye, which proved to be difficult. The tour operator had not made sufficient arrangements for the guides to use adequate methods to determine the actual distance to the glacier front. Nor did the guidelines issued by the tour operator organisation AECO address how the distance to a glacier front could be determined in practice. There is a need for guidelines that describe practical methods whereby guides and ships’ crews can obtain information about the actual distance to a glacier front. This need is assumed to apply to several tour operators.The Accident Investigation Board Norway recommends that the Governor of Svalbard coordinate the work on preparing guidelines that set out practical methods whereby guides and ships’ crews can obtain information about the actual distance to a glacier front.Download Report Download report