Draken calls pilotage “unfair”

Ambiguity in the law caused confusion for the visiting Viking ship

Photo: Nancy Andersen The Draken Harald Hårfagre in Chicago. The issue of fees was a distraction on its Great Lakes visit.

Photo: Nancy Andersen
The Draken Harald Hårfagre in Chicago. The issue of fees was a distraction on its Great Lakes visit.

Steven Dahlman
North Loop News

The Draken Harald Hårfagre has paid its pilotage fees but the Viking ship’s new expedition manager says such fees will keep them and other foreign vessels on similar goodwill missions from returning to the United States.

The largest Viking ship built in modern times left Norway on April 26 on a route that took it to Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and the United States, but not to its ultimate destination, Duluth, Minnesota, where one of every six residents is Norwegian. In July, as the ship was about to enter the Great Lakes, its crew learned they would have a local pilot on board to help with navigation and they would pay him $400 per hour.

Whether it would cost $430,000 as the captain of the Draken first calculated—or $145,000 as figured by one of the organizations providing pilotage services—the fees, though not a complete surprise, were at the very least a disappointment and a distraction.

Pilots and crew agree a price quote for pilotage was sent to the Draken expedition before it arrived in the U.S. An email sent last November from a Draken crew member to the Coast Guard acknowledged that pilotage was mandatory on the Great Lakes.

While the Draken was in Canada, however, its crew was told they did not need a pilot because their 115-foot-long by 26-foot-wide ship was too small. Whether this applied to Canadian waters only or all of the Great Lakes was not made clear to the expedition, according to Luke Snyder, who stepped up from expedition coordinator to expedition manager after the previous manager had to leave due to a serious illness.

When they realized they would have to pay, Draken captain Björn Ahlander first estimated the cost at well over $400,000 because the plan was to sail across the Great Lakes. The journey would be slower than if the ship used its engines and it would cover a larger area because sailing ships, at the mercy of the wind, do not travel in a straight line.

While the engines are needed for safety reasons, the Viking ship never intended to use them as its main means of propulsion.

“The pilots don’t see the ship as a sailing vessel,” says Snyder. “They look at it moving as fast as it can possibly go in the straightest line between one port and next. If you look at that, you can reduce the cost of pilotage, but that isn’t what the expedition is about.”

U.S. law ambiguous, unfair, says expedition manager
Though he emphasizes they are not “anti-pilot,” Snyder says the requirement, which has cost the expedition about $117,000, is unfair in their case. “The thing that we still can’t quite figure out is why we’re required to carry a pilot.”

He has looked at the legislation, which dates back to the 1960s, and while it says any foreign vessel entering the Great Lakes must have a pilot, Snyder says the law applies only to commercial vessels—which the Draken is not.

“When I look in the Coast Guard regulations and their [Code of Federal Regulations] and their [Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circulars] that they send out to their inspectors, I see something completely different, where it says that a foreign flag vessel that is operating a certificate of inspection, more as an attractions vessel, is not considered to be engaged in commerce or in state-to-state trade as long as there’s no materials or cargo being shipped from port to port and that there are no paying passengers coming on board at one of our stops.”

There is “ambiguity,” says Snyder. “I think that it’s really unfair for a vessel of this size and a vessel that was here doing something with a goodwill voyage, to be … expected to pay the same rate as a container vessel carrying cars or steel or goods worth millions of dollars.”

Draken had planned to end expedition in July
According to Snyder, when they saw that the cost would be steep, the plan was to end the expedition in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, skipping stops in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Chicago.

“The only reason we continued the expedition was because people started raising funds for us. And we thought, okay, the people want to see the ship and we can’t let them down and we’re going to try to make it as far as we can with the funds that are raised.”

A fundraising campaign by Sons of Norway, a financial services and international cultural organization, quickly raised $139,000, but the expedition decided it still was not enough to get to Duluth, at least not as the sailing vessel. After visiting Chicago, the Draken made it as far west as Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Fees paid late due to illness
Snyder says he took over as expedition manager when the previous manager, Lisa Johansson, was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

It took some time to find an agent in the U.S. to whom pilotage invoices, mistakenly sent to their Canadian agent, could be sent for payment. Eventually all of the pilots were paid but those fees, says Snyder, have been a distraction.

“I feel… we have just been fighting this entire time and we haven’t even been able to tell our stories.”

He says something has to be done so that the Draken and other such vessels, with more of an educational purpose than commercial, can reach destinations on the Great Lakes affordably.

Millions of dollars, he says, have been spent to build and operate the ship, with no plans to ever see that money again. “Wooden ships are never an investment. They are a hole in the ground. They’re a money pit. It doesn’t matter if the boat is 15 feet or 115 feet, you’re going to put money into it all the time.”

Any money earned giving tours or selling merchandise “wouldn’t even begin” to recover the cost, says Snyder.

“You could do this for 20 years and never make a profit.”

This article appeared in the Sept. 23, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.