Iceberg patrol prevents Titanic-like disasters
Last week marked the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s memorial voyage, known to many as the unsinkable ship, which struck an iceberg on its maiden journey and was forever claimed by the sea.
Icebergs are natural chunks of ice, formed on land from the glaciers. Drifting away with the tide of the oceans, icebergs are commonly found in the Antarctic and in the North Atlantic Ocean sea, quite near Greenland. Working towards eliminating the risk of iceberg collisions, the International Ice Patrol (IIP) was established in 1914. The inquiry of the Titanic, revealed the urgency to look out for dangers formed by colossal icy floaters. Nations such as Great Britain, USA and Germany backed the idea, giving birth to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
The length of the iceberg that collided with the Titanic was approximately 50 to 100 feet high, and around 200 to 400 feet long. The ship sank within three hours of its collision.
The organisation patrols icebergs from entering ships’ views. Speaking with Donald Murphy, the oceanographer of the IIP, we asked about the imposing threats of icebergs on our naval routes and more about the organisation.
Since the sinking of Titanic and the set-up of the International Ice Patrol, how many icebergs are floating across the Northern Atlantic now?
We use an iceberg map for ships and boats to visually see the danger spots. This map is on our website under “Products”. It is updated daily. Since the International Ice Patrol was formed in 1914, we have tracked many thousands of icebergs in the North Atlantic. So far this year, only a few icebergs have passed into the shipping lanes south of the island of Newfoundland.
How big is the team and how do you go about keeping ships safe from similar tragedies Titanic suffered?
There are 16 women and men working at the International Ice Patrol. Twice a month during the iceberg season (February through to July) we send a reconnaissance airplane to St. John’s Newfoundland to search the North Atlantic for icebergs. We provide the product map (pictured) to the ships so they can avoid the icebergs.
Is climate developing more icebergs since 1912?
Our yearly iceberg counts show enormous year-to-year changes. Over our history we’ve had some years with well over a thousand icebergs entering the shipping lanes. In other years, only a few icebergs enter the shipping lanes. In two years, 1966 and 2006, we had no icebergs. As a result, we can’t say for certain whether climate change is causing any change in the iceberg population in the North Atlantic.
What methods do you take when you discover an unknown iceberg? Are there ways to destroy them before they become a threat?
When we receive a report of an iceberg, we enter it into our database and we track it using a numerical model. We use the model to create the product map and we advise the ships to avoid the iceberg danger area. We have experimented with methods of destroying icebergs, but found that it was very difficult to do, even with bombs. Also, in the process of trying to destroy an iceberg we actually created more icebergs. The icebergs we created were small, which are hard for the ships to see. This is something we tried in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s. There is much information on those tests on our website.
Has the number of iceberg collisions dropped since the founding of the organisation? Has modern navigation technology proven to be advantageous when facing dangers at sea?
Mr. Brian Hill has extensive information on the subject via his website, and a thorough account of every collision which are fully reported.
Modern navigational systems and radars make the North Atlantic Ocean a safer place for ships, but modern ships still strike icebergs. Mariners still need our iceberg warnings. We are proud of the fact that, since the International Ice Patrol was founded in 1914, no ship that has heeded our warnings has struck on iceberg. Ships have struck icebergs, but they were inside the danger area that Ice Patrol defined.
As much as the technology is growing and the track of some icebergs are quite hard to find, the need for the International Ice Patrol is still essential. Always with a mission as it reaches a 100 years of Titanic’s tragedy, the organisation is a structured registered solution with procedures when at action.
For more information on the International Ice Patrol visit here.