Dispute over ex-expedition ship escalates in Denmark | Polarjournal
The Akademik Ioffe and her sister ship Sergey Vavilov were commissioned as research vessels by the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the USSR, they were used as expedition ships in the polar regions. In 2019, the owner withdrew the vessels and returned them to their original purpose.

In 2019, when the Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences suddenly ordered its two ships Akademik Ioffe and Sergey Vavilov back home, it was the beginning of the end for the Canadian company One Ocean Expeditions. The two ships again function as research vessels for the institute. But the dispute is far from over. The Canadian company has tried several times to have the ship impounded. With success: last week a Danish judge actually had the Ioffe clear the ship and arrest it during a refuelling stop in Skagen.

According to various media reports, on November 1, a judge of the Danish Enforcement Court had confirmed the arrest warrant for the detention of the vessel. This enabled the police in Skagen to bring the 61 people on board the Ioffe ashore and seize the ship. Since then, the ship has been moored off the Danish town of Skagen at the northern tip of North Jutland. Originally, the ship had wanted to bunker fuel in Skagen before continuing on to Kaliningrad, its home port, according to Danish reports.

The Ioffe has been anchored at Skagen since November 1, as shown in the screenshot from the Marine Traffice website. Image: Screenshot Marine Traffic

The vessel was detained following a complaint to the Danish authorities by the Canadian expedition company One Ocean Expedition. The company claims debts of the owner in the amount of approximately US$ 19 million, which are to be recovered while the vessel is detained. According to the former expedition company, the amount stems from costs incurred after the Ioffe ran aground during a 2018 voyage in the Northwest Passage and subsequent outages until the institute withdrew the vessels in May 2019. The company holds the captain and crew responsible for the accident at the time and demands the amount as compensation. Previous attempts by Canadians to claim the money through the courts have been unsuccessful, with settlements failing.

Thanks to its high ice class, the Ioffe was predestined to sail in the polar regions. Thanks to a sophisticated stabilizer system around the ship, even the dreaded Drake Passage could be sailed through mostly calmly, which had made the ship additionally very popular. Picture: Michael Wenger

In the media, not only in Russia, the legality of the arrest was questioned. One Ocean Expedition had previously tried to get the ship detained. However, in Portugal the authorities refused to detain the vessel. Denmark, however, saw the situation differently. The Danish judge invokes the 1952 International Convention for the Arrest of Seagoing Ships. This allows, in the event of a lawsuit against the owner, the detention of all vessels as insurance during the lawsuit. But since the ship belongs to the Russian state, this handling does not apply, experts explain. Whether the ship is indeed Russian property must now be confirmed.

The Russian corvette Stoikiy is said to have sailed secretly to Skagen and rounded the Ioffe before sailing on to Gdansk. However, the Danish authorities wave it off and explain that Russia simply placed the signal on Marine Traffic’s website. Image: Mil.ru, CC BY 4.0

At this point the whole story could actually be over. But since the detention, there have also been various strange-seeming stories coursing through the media. There was, for example, the news of the sudden appearance of a Russian warship off Skagen in the night from Thursday to Friday. The ship in question was said to be the Stoikiy, a 104-meter corvette equipped with anti-ship missiles. She had suddenly appeared on the Marine Traffic website, circled the Ioffe and disappeared again. The Danish authorities, however, have not confirmed the news and the Danish broadcasting company DR states in an article that the ship’s AIS signal was probably brought to the website electronically by Russia. Danish media also state that the judge was called in advance by the defence command and made aware that the ship should not be detained as it was considered Russia’s state property and therefore allowed to sail freely. This action has made the news in Denmark, as an executive authority has interfered in a judicial matter.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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