Fednav transits fabled Northwest Passage

Montreal-based shipping line Fednav was at the ‘top of the world’ when its most modern icebreaking ship, MV Nunavik, undertook a historic voyage last fall, becoming one of the first commercial vessels to transit the full length of Canada’s fabled Northwest Passage, and the first to do so unescorted with an Arctic cargo.

The Nunavik left Northern Quebec and transited through the Northwest Passage to China.

The Nunavik sailed from Deception Bay in Northern Quebec on September 19 carrying 23,000 tonnes of nickel concentrate from the Canadian Royalties mine bound for Bayuquan, China, where it arrived 26 days later, on October 15.

The 31,700-deadweight-ton Nunavik, the most powerful conventional (non-nuclear) icebreaking bulk carrier in the world, is capable of independent operations in harsh Arctic conditions. It sails from Deception Bay year round, transporting product from the Canadian Royalties mine.

After leaving Deception Bay, the ship spent its first few days heading east through Hudson Strait, then north through Davis Strait and Baffin Bay before reaching the most northerly part of its journey at Lancaster Sound, the eastern gateway to the Northwest Passage. After passing Resolute Bay, it began its descent to lower latitudes. Upon exiting the Prince of Wales Strait, it sailed west through Amundsen Gulf and into the Beaufort Sea on Day 9 of its voyage.

A shorter journey by about 5,000 nautical miles.

The challenge of transiting the Northwest Passage was now complete. After leaving 2,071 nautical miles behind, the ship was ready for the second part of its voyage – the 4,914 nautical miles ahead to Bayuquan.

2,000 tonnes of GHG saved

By favouring the Northwest Passage over the traditional Panama Canal route to China, the Nunavik saved roughly 5,000 nautical miles or 20 days of sailing and therefore about 2,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

During the Northwest Passage portion of the voyage, the vessel’s master, Captain Randy Rose, the ice navigator, Captain Tom Grandy, and the watchkeepers on board the Nunavik kept a careful watch for glacial ice (bergs, growlers and bergy bits), an ever-present concern in Arctic waters. A shore-based team of ice navigation specialists from Fednav and its subsidiary, Enfotec, supported the ship. The vessel received regular ice charts from the Canadian Ice Service as well as near real-time satellite imagery. This information, coupled to Enfotec’s proprietary on-board ice-navigation system, IceNav, further contributed to the safe and efficient transit.


Those interested in following the adventure were able to do so though Fednav’s Northwest Passage blog . At its peak, the online journal had some 8,000 followers. They were able to read about the challenges facing the ship and its crew and view rarely seen photos of Arctic scenery.

Tim Keane, Fednav’s Senior Manager of Arctic Operations and Projects, wrote the journal until Day 9 of the voyage, when he disembarked at Banks Island. Chief Engineer Gary Bishop continued the journal for the rest of the voyage.

“We were very pleased with all aspects of the voyage, which owes its success to our collective years of Arctic experience," Mr. Keane said. "At the end of the day, what may have appeared to be a rather routine voyage was, in fact, the result of a very thoroughly and carefully planned risk assessment, and expert execution by highly qualified crew, both on board and ashore.”