Hundreds of icebergs have entered North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past few weeks – unusually large numbers this early in the season. This has forced vessels to slow down or take long detours around swarms of floating ice.
Weather experts blame strong counter-clockwise winds for drawing the icebergs south while rising temperatures continue to deteriorate Greenland’s ice sheet.
450 icebergs were counted near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the first week of April says the U.S. Coast Guard’s international ice patrol. The average for early April is about 80 and counts this large are rarely seen before the end of May.
Rather than take a traditional Great Circle route across the North Atlantic, weather routers have detoured ships by as much as 350 nautical miles to avoid the ice, adding an extra day to the ocean crossing.
The AP reports that cargo ships owned by Oceanex – Newfoundland and Labrador’s leading intermodal transportation company – are throttling back to three or four knots as they make their way to their home port in St John’s according to executive chairman Captain Sid Hynes.
“One ship was pulled out of service for repairs after hitting a chunk of ice.” Hynes told the associated press. “ It makes everything more expensive. You’re burning more fuel, it’s taking a longer time, and it’s hard on the equipment.” He called it a “very unusual year”.
A warning by USCG ice patrol Commander Gabrielle McGrath notes that, early this month, three icebergs were found outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid and she is predicting a fourth consecutive “extreme ice season” with over 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes during the peak of the 2017 season.
According to data on the ice patrol’s website there were 1,546 icebergs in shipping lanes in 2014, 1,165 icebergs in 2015 and 687 in 2016.
The United States Coast Guard has been tasked with the management and operation of the International Ice Patrol since 1913 when it was founded in the wake of the RMS Titanic tragedy. During its 104 years of operation, not a single ship that’s headed Ice Patrol warnings has struck an iceberg, according to the USCG.