After Sailing from Across North Atlantic, Real Viking Ship Forced to Leave Great Lakes Over Pilot Fees

Photo: Draken America Expedition
Draken Harald Hårfagr. Photo: Draken Expedition America

A modern day Viking ship that sailed all the way from Norway to attend a Great Lakes tall ship festival may not even make be forced to turn back over an issue regarding pilotage fees.

The Norwegian Viking Ship, Draken Harald Hårfagr, has already sailed across the North Atlantic with stops in Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, and is currently in Lake Erie after having passed through the the St Lawrence Seaway. It is headed to the Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes 2016 race series, a tall ship race through all five Great Lakes with port appearances in cities throughout the United States and Canada.

The non-profit behind the Draken however, Draken Expedition America, says that the Viking ship recently entered the Great Lakes with information from the Great Lakes Pilotage Authorities that the ship would not be required to obtain pilotage based on a rule stating, in part, that “…Foreign ships of less than 35 meters in overall length are not subject to compulsory pilotage in the Great Lakes Region”.

SEE ALSO: Ship Photos – Real Viking Ship Completes North Atlantic Crossing

Unfortunately, the organization later learned when entering the St Lawrence Seaway that the ship actually is required a pilot at all times while at sea, with no possibility of a discount on fees. If the ship were to participate in the Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes as scheduled, the cost for the pilotage would be well over $400,000 – a fee so high that it is simply not possible for a non-profit like Draken Expedition America, the organization says.

“We are required a pilot as soon as we leave the dock with the cost of 400 USD per hour, the rate as a commercial freight ship,” says Captain Björn Ahlander. “It is very disappointing, the people in the harbors around the lakes are expecting us and we have been warmly welcomed in every port we have visited, it is a pity if we can not pursue this expedition.”

Despite the setback, the organization has decided to attend this weekend’s Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City, Michigan, despite the hefty fees associated with it.

“There is not room in our budget to go further west into the Great Lakes, but we can not let the people in Bay City down,” added Captain Ahlander. “The Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City is just days away and the planning is in its final stages, it would be great disappointment for us and more importantly to the people we already committed to.”

But soon after this weekend’s festival, the Draken will be forced to leave the Great Lakes as soon as possible unless it can raise enough money to fund the rest of the trip.

“It is very unfortunate if Draken Harald Hårfagre is not able to continue the expedition to sail the waters where there is a such high interest, and presence of the cultural heritage from the Nordic countries. At present, the only solution for Draken Harald Hårfagre to stay in the Great Lakes is if the project somehow gets the cost for pilotage covered,” the organization said.

As gCaptain reported a few weeks ago after the ship completed its transatlantic voyage, Draken Harald Hårfagre is actually not a replica, rather it’s a real-life Viking ship built based ancient Norwegian boat building techniques dug up from the history books and archaeological findings. Construction was completed in 2014 and it is now heralded as the world’s largest Viking ship ever built in modern times.

Outside the Great Lakes, the Draken’s schedule still includes a stop in New York City and finally Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut in October.

The news of Draken plight comes as the U.S. Coast Guard, who sets Great Lakes pilotage rates, is being sued by a coalition of foreign-flag shipping companies and trade organizations in Canada and United States over a drastic increase in pilotage rates on the Great Lakes.