The Russian government has abruptly ordered two ice-strengthened ships to remain at home just four weeks before they were contracted to begin the Arctic season under lease to B.C.-based One Ocean Expeditions.
The ships — Vavilov and Ioffe — are owned by a Russian scientific institute, which has been under contract with One Ocean since 2011.
“We followed the standard practice and had legal contracts,” general manager Cathy Lawton said Tuesday. “We exercised all the legal options and they still didn’t deliver. They gave us word that this is a government modernization project. We’re still trying to figure out what is going on.”
While the immediate focus is on rebooking passengers for both the Arctic season and the Antarctic season that begins in November, One Ocean plans to sue for breach of contract. That action will be taken in London where the contracts were negotiated and signed.
It’s thrown the expedition travel company’s season into disarray since the Akademik Sergey Vavilov and the Akademik Ioffe were both heavily booked.
Arctic passengers are being rebooked on OOE’s third ship, Resolute, which only came into service last year. It is larger, with a capacity for 146 passengers, while the two Russian ships had room for 110. Lawton said it means that even though the company has lost two-thirds of its fleet, the number of passengers booked is about the same as during the 2017-18 season before Resolute came into service.
Since One Ocean was informed that the Russian government had ordered the ships to stay in port more than a week ago, the company has rebooked one large group and 240 passengers who were to have started their Arctic expedition in Spitzbergen, Norway.
Passengers with tickets for the Antarctic season, which starts in November, are being contacted this week to either rebook on Resolute or for next season. But the company has had to reduce the number of itineraries it can offer both in the Arctic and Antarctic until alternative ships can be found.
Last September, the Ioffe ran aground in uncharted waters in the Gulf of Boothia near Kugaaruk, Nunavut. All 126 passengers, researchers and One Ocean staff were safely taken off the ship. The damaged ship was refloated and taken to Les Mechins, Que., before returning to Russia. It’s not known whether calls for higher environmental and safety standards are related to the commandeering of the research ships.