Viking ship headed to Duluth hits bureaucratic shoals

When you or your kids start thinking about what to do with their lives, they might think about being a pilot on the Great Lakes, the people who help guide big ships through the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes.

It costs a ship $400 an hour for a pilot, and that’s why the Norwegian Viking Ship, Draken Harald Hårfagre, might not make it to Duluth’s Tall Ships Challenge 2016.

In a press release on the ship’s website, a spokesperson says a requirement to pay the money threatened to force the world’s tallest Viking ship to turn around.

Sarah Blank says the ship’s captain and executives were under the impression the fees, which they believed would ultimately total $400,000, would be waived for the ship.

The expedition relied on the information from the Pilotage Authorities and the possibility not to be a subject to compulsory pilotage.

Unfortunately the project learned, when entering the St Lawrence Seaway, that the ship is required a pilot at all times while at sea with no possibility of reduction in cost. The cost for the pilotage, if the ship were to participate in the schedule for Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes 2016, is well over 400 000 USD.

The fees are not within reason for a non profit sail training vessel, it blocks the opportunity for any foreign tall ship to enter the Great Lakes and visit the ports.

We are a non profit project with the intention to spread knowledge about the Vikings seafaring and to inspire people to pursue dreams and look beyond the horizon, as modern Vikings, says Sigurd Aase, owner and curator of the project.

We are required a pilot as soon as we leave the dock with the cost of 400 USD per hour, the rate as a commercial freight ship.

It is very disappointing, the people in the harbors around the lakes are expecting us and we have been warmly welcomed in every port we have visited, it is a pity if we can not pursue this expedition, says Captain Björn Ahlander.

Blank says she fully understands the need for pilots on the seaway and doesn’t blame them.

But on its Facebook page this afternoon, it was revealed the ship is still heading this way … at least to Bay City, Mich., for a Tall Ships Festival that begins on Thursday.

“There is not room in our budget to go further (sic) west into the Great Lakes, but we can not let the people in Bay City down. The Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City is just days away and the planning is in its final stages, it would be great disappointment for us and more importantly to the people we already committed to,” the captain said.

The replica Viking ship had no problems on its journey from Norway, to Shetland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland to Newfoundland and into the St. Lawrence Seaway.

  • Robert Moffitt

    The original Vikings would have had a solution to this problem.

    • Jerry

      Create an extensive trading network and provide the basis for about half of all modern European states?

      • Jerry

        Or have a really strong regular season and screw up in the playoffs, as is the Viking Way. (Most notably told in the Saga of Dënnis the Green)

        • Khatti

          Ooooooooh! Ooooooooh!

        • Jeff

          Maybe they are bringing us a kicker who is hearty enough not to shank a kick when it’s really cold.

  • Veronica

    Wait. If there’s no pilot, who drives the ship?

    • the captain

      • Veronica

        Now I have to figure out what the difference between the two may be….

        • Jerry

          Think of the pilot as the guide who knows where all the hazards are.

          • Veronica

            So, the pilot is like. “I’ve been through here a bunch of times, I know where everything is” and the captain is like, “Gosh I’m good at moving this boat around, but gosh, I could hit something?”

          • Jerry

            Basically yes

          • Veronica

            Huh. Thanks.

          • KTFoley

            Partly. It’s more that the captain is like “How far has that sandbar shifted from when the chart was published in 2012?” and the pilot is like, “My whole & only job is to know the seafloor/lake bottom in this area, to know the force and direction and timing of the currents especially as affected by this moment’s current weather & tide, to know the frequency & communication protocol of scheduled blockages and cross traffic such as a bridge or lock or ferry, to know the intricacies of maneuvering a vessel into the harbor spots, and to get you from point A to point B without incident. Also, it’s part of my job to make sure you don’t dump anything in these lakes.”

            Same type of rationale for airline pilots deferring to Air Traffic Control on takeoff & landing.

          • KTFoley

            I completely left out that the pilot is responsible for safe loading/unloading of cargo, and that a pilot has to be on deck whenever the ship is underway in the Great Lakes. Freighters that travel 24/7 could need four people with pilot’s licenses to shepherd a vessel on its route. Learn something new every day.

        • The pilot literally boards the ship and takes control from the captain.

          I believe it happens in a lot of harbors when ships are docking etc.

          Not sure if it happens in Duluth or not, though.

  • CHS

    I was really looking forward to them being in Duluth, I really hope they can make this work. What bureaucrat needs to waive this?

  • Jeff

    This is a Viking ship, let the authorities try to fine you or take down your ship…just board them and take over…even Vikings today are worried about following the rules. How sad…I’m still not sure how navigating a ship in the great lakes should cost $400,000…just another example of out of control governmental rules which allows no room for common sense to be applied. Perhaps some kind-hearted (or history buffs) pilots could donate some if not all their time to make this journey possible.

    • CHS

      No kidding. It’s not like they are dumping polluted water then trying to cover it up or something. That 400 dollar an hour pilot is great for a freighter that could cause some serious damage if it hits something or doesn’t follow the right procedures. This is a Viking longship…. are they worried that they are going to sack Madeleine Island?

  • Could the lawsuit filed last month by several foreign shipping companies and Great Lakes ports vs. USCG, regarding the USCG’s recent raise of the pilotage rate by 58% (resulting in the $400/hour USD rate) be a factor in this? I’ve been hearing the pilotage rate (not the need/requirement for a pilot) has been an ongoing problem for tall ship festival organizers for the past several years.