Viking Ship Organization was aware of US Pilotage Requirements on the Great Lakes

By Capt. George Haynes ,Pilot, Vice-President ,Lakes Pilots Association 

The Norwegian Viking Ship Drake Harald Harfagre is on its way to Chicago from Bay City, MI for the Tall Ships celebration on July 27-31 despite having to pay pilotage fees on the Great Lakes.  They have decided to keep participating in the Tall Ships Challenge after a public campaign to collect donations has raised over $56,000.  The organization behind the Viking Ship, Draken Expedition America, has claimed that they were caught unaware of US pilotage requirements when they entered the St. Lawrence Seaway in early June after being told by the Canadian Great Lakes Pilotage Authority that they are were exempt because they were less than 35 meters long.  The US pilotage regulations are different and base requirements on whether a foreign flag vessel is conducting commercial activity on the Great Lakes such as collecting fees to attend events and to provide tours for paying passengers, much like cruise ships.  If the Viking Ship were not accepting any fees and open to the public for free, they would be exempt from all pilot requirements.

The Draken organization is calculating that they will need to raise $430,000 to continue on.  In October of 2015, the US pilot companies handling pilotage where the events are scheduled, sent estimates of $192,000 for the Viking Ship’s transit costs at the request of Tall Ships America Director, Patricia Lock, for their whole itinerary on the Great Lakes.  That figure based on a rate of 6 knots, was later revised downward by 15% after the new lower rates were published April 1st.  In November the spokesperson of the Draken Expedition, Woodrow Wiest, acknowledged that pilotage was mandatory for the entire Great Lakes in an email circulated to all pilotage districts by the US Coast Guard.  In addition, a meeting was held in Cleveland in February attended by the Patricia Lock, the US Coast Guard Director of Great Lakes Pilotage Todd Haviland and all three US pilotage district presidents to discuss pilotage rules and rates.  It was made clear that there would be no exceptions to the US regulations for the tall ships. The regulations for Great Lakes pilotage are clearly available under both the US and Canadian pilotage authorities websites.

The estimated attendance for the five Tall Ship events on the US side is 1.5 million.  The foreign flag tall ships are the most popular at these events.  After paying an entrance fee to each event, another $12 on average is charged per person for a dockside tour of the 10 or so participating ships.  When you add up these fees, plus cruise fees of $65 to $150 per person and sponsorships of up to $45,000 per port, the total revenue collected by a foreign flag tall ship could easily exceed $1.5 million just in the US ports alone.

The Viking Ship organization had all this information before their voyage started from Norway on April 26.  Despite their exemption from Canadian pilotage, they voluntarily hired pilots in the Canadian waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway for fees of CDN $17,000. The ship is now making additional stops in Alpena and Frankfort, Michigan and collecting fees for tours.  The vessel is traveling under both sail and engine making speeds of 8.5 to 10 knots.

Over the last thirty years, over 40 tall ships that came into the Great Lakes were required by law to have a pilot. They came and left without any public campaign to avert costs.  The Viking Ship organization was adequately informed in advance of their US pilotage requirements and costs.

George Haynes

Port Huron, MI