Why Icebergs Are Still Dangerous


Icebergs. They seem like a threat that belongs to another era. They sank the Titanic, made the Arctic unnavigable for centuries — but surely no longer, right? Wrong. They still pose a huge threat to the shipping lanes that cross through the areas of the Arctic where they exist. Each one large enough to sink or trap a container ship or oil tanker. crossing the Northern Sea Route or the Transpolar Sea Route. These lanes connect the Atlantic and Pacific, so they play a vital role in global trade. So how to today’s massive transoceanic shippers — and everyone else, for that matter — avoid the huge threat that icebergs pose?

The International Ice Patrol. The organization has its roots in the international response to the sinking of the Titanic. In 1914, the International Convnetion for the Safety of Life at Sea met for the first time, and the idea for a group to patrol the Arctic Ocean, locate and identify icebergs, and provide an intelligence report on them to all vessels passing through the region took shape. That idea grew into what is now the International Ice Patrol, a unit of the United States Coast Guard that does extensive overflights of the region and keep shippers and captains abreast of where the dangers lie. (Another, too little-known way in which the U.S.’s lead role in international institutions provides huge global benefits). Since its inception and the publications of its first reports, no ship who has followed their guidance has ever had an iceberg incident.

We spoke with Patrol’s Commanding Office, Cdr. Gabrielle McGrath, about her work, its pleasures and dangers and importance, and how interested civilians who dream of flight and icebound solitude can find a place int he unity. She recommends it as a great career.