Could Draken have made Duluth?

Great Lakes pilots crunch numbers, say Viking ship could’ve finished its journey

Photo: Nancy Andersen The Draken in Chicago, Ill.

Photo: Nancy Andersen
The Draken in Chicago, Ill.

Steven Dahlman
Loop North News

It may not be of practical relevance at this point, but an association of Great Lakes pilots says the Viking ship visiting from Norway did not have to end its expedition early.

Lakes Pilots Association, one of three United States organizations providing pilotage service to ships crossing the Great Lakes, estimates it would have cost the Draken Harald Hårfagre, traveling at 8.5 knots, only $145,000 to complete its journey as planned, not $250,000 as the expedition has estimated recently, nor an earlier estimate of $430,000.

“We do not know how their initial sensational figure of $430,000 was calculated,” says the association, “but they would have to consistently travel an average of 2.8 knots in both rivers and lakes to achieve such a cost.”

The $145,000 should have been affordable, the association claims. Between sponsorships and what the general public could be charged, the Draken, the largest Viking ship built in modern times, could have raised at least $1.5 million from the events it attended.

“The foreign flag tall ships are the most popular at these events,” says the association. “After paying an entrance fee to each event, another $12 on average is charged per person for a dockside tour of the ten 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 U.S. ports alone.”

The expedition says it was surprised to learn their ship would have to pay as much as $400 per hour for a pilot to be on board to help with navigation. A fundraising campaign netted $139,000, but the Draken crew decided to skip an appearance in Duluth, Minnesota, and sail east after a stop at the Tall Ship Festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The ship will also miss planned stops in New York and Connecticut.

The cost to get as far as Green Bay, according to Lakes Pilots Association, was $79,000. The trip from Green Bay to New York should cost another $38,000.

Fees should not have been a surprise
The Draken was subject to pilotage regulations because it is a foreign ship and because it conducted commercial activity on the Great Lakes, as visitors to Tall Ship events are charged a fee to tour the vessel.

The Coast Guard regulations and costs to comply with them, according to Lakes Pilots Association, “were made very clear” to the Draken expedition and to Tall Ships America.

Last October, says the association, an estimate of $192,000 for pilotage fees for the Draken was submitted at the request of Patricia Lock of Chicago, in charge of special projects for Tall Ships America. The amount was for the ship’s entire itinerary and was based on a speed of six knots. The estimate was later lowered by 15 percent when new rates went into effect.

In November, Draken crew member Woodrow Wiest acknowledged in an email to the Coast Guard that pilotage was mandatory on the Great Lakes. In the email, sent on November 11 to Mark Bobal, Passenger Vessel Safety Specialist for the Ninth Coast Guard District based in Cleveland, Wiest asks: “We hear that in some places we are required to take a pilot. Besides the entirety of the Great Lakes, where else is it mandatory?”

In February, pilotage rules and rates were discussed at a meeting in Cleveland attended by Lock, Todd Haviland, director of the Great Lakes Pilotage Program, and the presidents of all three pilotage districts.

Says Lakes Pilots Association: “It was made clear that there would be no exceptions to the U.S. regulations for the tall ships.”

Other foreign ships participating in Tall Ship events on the Great Lakes, says the association, have collected significant fees without the need for fundraising campaigns.

“The Viking ship organization cannot say that pilotage fees and misinformation is the reason for disappointing the people of Minnesota and Duluth when those people have already funded their pilotage costs,” the association concludes.

Pilots prevent accidents and spills
As an example of the value of a local pilot, the association recalled the tall ship Pathfinder, which has run aground twice in the past month.

“In both cases, the vessel was passing on the wrong side of a major navigational light marking a shoal. The vessel again narrowly missed grounding a third time in the Detroit River after being released August 3rd. The tall ship was heading outside of the safe channel but changed course quickly after being warned by a U.S. registered pilot on a passing foreign vessel that they were in danger. The Pathfinder did not have a registered pilot on board and is exempt from pilotage requirements under Canadian law.”

Great Lakes pilots work for the American people, says the association, and help protect the largest freshwater body in the world.

“Foreign vessels big and small employ pilots to navigate the intricate channels and dangerous shoals to prevent accidents and environmental catastrophes.”

Björn Ahlander, captain of the Draken Harald Hårfagre, has blamed “bad research” on the pilotage fee miscalculation but did not expect the fees to be waived.

“There are very few pilots for this area,” he said in Chicago on July 27. “They have a hard job. And they try to serve all the ships. There was a rumor that there were a lot of pilots who could volunteer here and come in and do it voluntarily but that’s not possible because they have a lot of work to do.”

This story is reprinted from Loop North News with permission of the author.

This article also appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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