Safety in the Maritime Arctic: New UArctic Research Fellowship Program


"What do you think we will find in here?" I ask Svein as we stand outside an 18th-century naval arsenal in East London that houses the archive of Lloyd’s Register Foundation. Svein Buvik served as a Captain in the Norwegian Navy, patrolling Northern Norway's coastline in the 1990s, and has joined me on this visit. “Untold Arctic histories," he replies as we enter the vault to meet members of the Foundation’s heritage team.


By Stephen Heal, Member of the President’s Cabinet and Fellowship Program Team, UArctic


Svein now sits on the Board of the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden and is helping UArctic develop an exciting new partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation. The Foundation is the sole shareholder of Lloyd’s Register, a classification society that has been ensuring the world's ships are safe to sail since the 1760s. These days the Foundation is run with a mission to “engineer a safer world”, and it funds research and interventions around the world related to maritime safety, alongside a range of other global safety priorities including supporting safe and sustainable infrastructure and building capacity by promoting engineering skills.

Together with the Foundation’s Heritage and Education Centre, UArctic is launching a new research fellowship program that is open to all UArctic members. The Foundation has funded the program to support research under the brief “maritime safety: learning from the past to address challenges to the safety of peoples in the Arctic.”

We know that the maritime Arctic is undergoing profound changes. Climate change is reducing sea ice cover, opening up new sea routes, and affecting the distribution of commercial fisheries, as well as impacting global weather systems. We have seen a steady increase in ship traffic of all kinds across the Arctic. More fishing vessels, merchant ships and cruise ships are travelling further each year in the Arctic according to experts from the Arctic Council’s Working Group on Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME). This presents both opportunities and challenges for Indigenous and local communities, such as communities in Inuit Nunangat or commercial fishing communities in Iceland. It also presents new risks to the environment and to the safety of the people onboard ships.

Alex Stitt, Director of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre, explains why it is important that this work is being done now. “We have an opportunity to learn from changes in the past to help us better navigate the changes of today, and do so in a way that is more equitable and inclusive. Shipping has undergone transitions from sail to steam and from steam to fossil fuels – and the next energy transition is upon us.”

Over the past year, a small team led by UArctic Vice-President Research Gunnar Stefánsson has been working with a multidisciplinary expert group to shape the new fellowship program and define the topics for its first call for proposals. The team held seminars with the expert group in Reykjavík and Malmö. The expert group consists of both members of UArctic Thematic Networks and representatives from the maritime industries including fishing companies, port authorities, shipping insurers, PAME, and policy-making organizations such as the International Maritime Organization. They all contribute to enable as broad a view as possible of the research needs and priorities, and will also be an important part of the audience for the research outputs.

“I am very happy to be leading this program, because I can see that the Fellowships will be able to harness the UArctic network to produce better research. Their work will be brought to decision-makers and audiences through both UArctic and Lloyd’s Register Foundation to help improve safety for the peoples in the Circumpolar North,” Gunnar says.

The new UArctic x Lloyd’s Register Foundation Fellows will not only receive funding for their work over two academic years, but they will also benefit from access to resources offered by program partners alongside the core Foundation funding and its archive. The Heritage & Education Centre holds over 1.1 million Ship Plan and Survey Reports as well the Register of Ships, Rules and Regulations, and Technical Association Papers. The Fellows are asked to produce their individual research papers plus contribute to a collaborative paper. Combining this with access to UArctic Chairs and relevant UArctic Thematic Networks should make it a truly cross-disciplinary research program.

Is it significant for UArctic to have started this partnership with a maritime-focused foundation? “The Arctic local and Indigenous Peoples live on and around a shared ocean. Navigating it safely is a challenge, but also a skill developed over thousands of years by the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. Working together with Indigenous knowledge holders in co-created projects could create outcomes beneficial for all Arctic residents,” says Kirsi Latola, UArctic Vice-President Networks and a member of the program design team.

The first call for research therefore highlights three interlinked topics: “ice histories” and the opportunity to integrate historic perspectives and insights into sea ice with the modern technologies and regulations that guide shipping today; “safely navigating new sea routes” and the opportunity to learn from experiences of opening up new sea routes in the past as further routes are now developed (the Northern Sea Route and the North West Passage); and “cruise ships in the cold” as a specific case of new maritime traffic in the Arctic that raises not only opportunities but also safety concerns and challenges to local infrastructure and its capacity to respond to incidents.

As we explore the archive, Svein and I are shown the ship surveys and wreck reports of an innovative Canadian Arctic icebreaker built by a British shipyard in 1908 that worked during both world wars. “Now there’s an Arctic story to be told,” I say to Svein. I then wonder out loud if research fellowship meetings could be held here in this labyrinthine archive. Louise Sanger, Head of Research, Interpretation and Engagement at the Foundation’s Heritage and Education Centre, replies: “Of course, your Arctic researchers will be most welcome.”