THE ARTIC CIRCLE — The MSV Nordica is as robust a ship as you can find, but striking out to sea —especially in the remote and icy Arctic— always carries a risk. What if something goes wrong? Who do we call for help? The short answer is: we're on our own.
Thankfully the icebreaker has all the safety equipment of a modern oceangoing vessel, plus some more because it works in such hostile waters. In a general emergency, such as a hole in the hull, the ship's alarm sounds eight times — seven short, one long.
If that happens, we're to grab one of the survival suits stowed beneath our bunks before heading for one of two muster stations on deck to don a life vest. The survival suit provides some measure of protection from the cold if you become immersed in freezing waters.
Next to each muster station is a lifeboat capable of carrying 82 people, one on each side of the ship. Even if one lifeboat were to fail, there would be enough space in the other for everybody on board.
The bright orange lifeboats are made of fiberglass, measure 31 by 11 feet and have provisions for more than a week at sea.
In a medical emergency, the ship has its own sick bay stocked with life-saving medicines and crew trained to perform first aid and stabilize someone who has suffered an injury or heart attack, for example.
There is a helicopter landing pad on the ship's bow. Because the Nordica doesn't have its own helicopter, one would have to fly in from land to pick up a severely sick person. This poses a particular problem in the central part of the Northwest Passage, which is hundreds of miles from any search-and-rescue station.
If fire breaks out, crew members are trained to tackle the blaze themselves.
Self-reliance is key. Even if rescuers are dispatched, it would take several hours for them to reach the ship.
"We have to observe strict safety routines," says Nordica's first officer, Jukka Vuosalmi. "There is absolutely nobody who could help us if things go wrong."