Cov­er­ing The Cold­est Jour­ney

RISKAFRICA Magazine - - CONTENTS - Hanna Barry

“The ship has fi­nally sailed and left the six of us with nowhere to run other than south.” So be­gins a blog en­try by Ian Prick­ett on Mon­day, 4 Fe­bru­ary, the day af­ter the SA Agul­has bid farewell to the six-man Ice Team in Crown Bay, Antarc­tica. “Next on the list, ski more than 2 000 miles in win­ter.”

Prick­ett is one of a group of ex­plor­ers who will at­tempt to con­quer what has been called the last great po­lar chal­lenge: the first ever win­ter cross­ing of Antarc­tica. Known as The Cold­est Jour­ney, the ex­pe­di­tion will com­mence on 21 March 2013, the cen­te­nary year of Cap­tain Robert Fal­con Scott’s death in the Antarc­tic. A naval of­fi­cer and ex­plorer, Cap­tain Scott died at­tempt­ing to be the first to reach the South Pole. Up un­til late Fe­bru­ary, the ex­pe­di­tion was to be led by Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes, who has been de­scribed by the Guin­ness Book of World Records as “the world’s great­est liv­ing ex­plorer”. Sir Ran­ulph, Ran to those who know him, was born in 1944 in the UK, brought up in South Africa and then re­turned to the UK. At 21, he was the youngest cap­tain in the Bri­tish Army.

Un­for­tu­nately, he had to pull out of the ex­pe­di­tion af­ter con­tract­ing frost­bite in his left hand. It was de­cided that his con­tin­ued par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ex­pe­di­tion would make him more of a li­a­bil­ity than an as­set. Al­though a blow to the team and bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing for Sir Ran­ulph, the re­main­ing ex­pe­di­tion mem­bers, un­der the ex­pe­ri­enced lead­er­ship of tra­verse man­ager, Brian Ne­wham, have unan­i­mously elected to con­tinue with the cross­ing.

In­sur­ance as­pects

Jar­dine Lloyd Thomp­son is the bro­ker on The Cold­est Jour­ney and has cre­ated and placed in the co-in­sur­ance mar­kets of Lloyd’s and ma­jor in­sur­ance com­pa­nies a bespoke pol­icy to pro­vide cru­cial cover for the ex­pe­di­tion. “This in­sur­ance turns on a re­quire­ment for the ex­pe­di­tion to have ad­e­quate as­sets to clean up and re­move all items used to sup­port the tra­verse, so as to en­sure Antarc­tica re­mains a pris­tine, vir­gin en­vi­ron­ment when the cross­ing is con­cluded,” ex­plains Tony Med­niuk, chair­man of the board of trus­tees for The Cold­est Jour­ney. “It must also pro­vide nec­es­sary funds for any search and res­cue mis­sion for the ice team, to the ex­tent such an op­er­a­tion may be fea­si­ble in the hos­tile po­lar con­di­tions.”

The pre­cise pol­icy lim­its and pre­mium re­main con­fi­den­tial to the ex­pe­di­tion, but Med­niuk con­firms that the cover is counted in sev­eral mil­lions of US Dollars. Med­niuk, who has served on the mar­ket board of Lloyd’s of Lon­don, first worked with Sir Ran­ulph and An­ton Bowring, The Cold­est Jour­ney ex­pe­di­tion co-leader, to cre­ate the wholly spon­sored in­sur­ance pro­gramme for the Tran­sglobe Ex­pe­di­tion in 1979.

This was the first cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the world along its po­lar axis. He was joined by Bri­tish ex­plorer Charles Bur­ton. The three-year, 56 000-kilo­me­tre odyssey took in­tri­cate plan­ning, 1 900 spon­sors and a 52-per­son team to

han­dle. One of the spon­sors, Mo­bil, do­nated $6 mil­lion worth of fuel to the ex­pe­di­tion. The cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion has never been suc­cess­fully re­peated. Marine in­sur­ance was or­gan­ised by Marsh and McLen­nan, to­gether with CT Bowring and Com­pany, through Lloyd’s. “Af­ter seven years of plan­ning, Lloyd’s was ap­proached to spon­sor the in­sur­ance for it, which it did. Due to the ex­ten­sive plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, Lloyd’s de­cided it was a low risk pro­ject,” Sir Ran­ulph told RISKAFRICA. He was eat­ing lunch on board the SA Agul­has at the time, the day be­fore it set sail for the frozen con­ti­nent, with Ice Team, crew and equip­ment, from Cape Town’s V&A Wa­ter­front on 7 Jan­uary.

“The Cold­est Jour­ney would not have been pos­si­ble with­out in­sur­ance,” says Bowring, adding that plan­ning for the ex­pe­di­tion has taken five years. While this has min­imised the risks sig­nif­i­cantly, it re­mains an in­cred­i­bly high­risk un­der­tak­ing, not least be­cause there can be no search and res­cue in the win­ter. Search and res­cue op­er­a­tions are pos­si­ble only at the be­gin­ning and end of the jour­ney, as air­craft can­not fly in the cold con­di­tions due to the threat of their fuel freez­ing. Should some­thing hap­pen to a mem­ber of the Ice Team in the mid­dle of the cross­ing, they will have to wait un­til sum­mer be­fore a res­cue at­tempt can be made.

Ex­treme risk man­age­ment

The 2 000-mile (3 219-kilo­me­tre) jour­ney across the con­ti­nent of Antarc­tica has for many years been con­sid­ered too per­ilous to try and the ex­pe­di­tion team will have to over­come one of the Earth’s most hos­tile en­vi­ron­ments, ex­pos­ing them­selves to tem­per­a­tures drop­ping close to -90 de­grees Cel­sius and op­er­at­ing in near per­ma­nent dark­ness. The For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice has, up un­til this ex­pe­di­tion, re­fused to grant per­mis­sion to take on the chal­lenge be­cause it has been deemed too risky and the chances of disas­ter too high. This de­ci­sion was over­turned only af­ter it was shown that tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions could mit­i­gate some of the risks of the cross­ing.

Frost­bite is the most likely haz­ard, as was ev­i­denced by Sir Ran­ulph’s in­ci­dent. This can be con­tracted at tem­per­a­tures of -20 de­grees Cel­sius, which seems mild in com­par­i­son to what the Ice Team will face. Sim­ply in­hal­ing air be­low -60 de­grees Cel­sius can cause ir­repara­ble dam­age to the lungs and frost­bite in a mat­ter of sec­onds, if skin is ex­posed. When walk­ing on the ice, the team will wear spe­cially de­vel­oped heated cloth­ing and use breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus to pro­tect them from the ever-present threats posed by such ex­treme tem­per­a­tures.

A mo­bile ve­hi­cle land­train, known as the ice train, will lead the tra­verse. It is made up of two Cater­pil­lar D6N track-type trac­tors, which will pull two spe­cially de­vel­oped ca­booses for sci­en­tific work, ac­com­mo­da­tion and stor­age, in­clud­ing fuel de­signed not to freeze. Sup­plied by Fin­ning UK and Ire­land, the 20-tonne D6Ns have been mod­i­fied by me­chan­ics to help cope in the ex­treme weather con­di­tions. For in­stance, a heat­ing mech­a­nism keeps the en­gines warm when they are not run­ning, and tented garages, which un­roll from the roof of each ve­hi­cle, will cover them each night, al­low­ing for any main­te­nance and re­fu­elling. “This is the ul­ti­mate en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge, as no ma­chine of this type has ever been ex­posed to th­ese tem­per­a­tures and the harsh en­vi­ron­ment. You have to con­sider how ev­ery sin­gle com­po­nent is go­ing to op­er­ate,” says Andy Thomas, Fin­ning de­sign en­gi­neer.

The trac­tors will fol­low be­hind a two-man ski unit, which will be as­sess­ing the ter­rain for crevasses – one of the big­gest threats to the suc­cess of the ex­pe­di­tion. Th­ese cracks on the ice can be as lit­tle as a few mil­lime­tres to many me­tres across and they can be bridged by snow at the sur­face, mak­ing them very dif­fi­cult to see. Since long dis­tance vi­sion will not be pos­si­ble in the dark win­ter months and what is pass­able by the skiers may not be pass­able by the heavy Cat ma­chines, in ad­di­tion to care­ful route choice, the team will be us­ing a ground pen­e­trat­ing radar. This piece of equip­ment trans­mits a sig­nal down into the snow and then re­flects the data onto a screen on board the Cats. It ex­poses a change of den­sity within the snow pack and is of­ten used for ground sur­vey work to de­tect sub­sur­face struc­tures such as pipes or ca­bles.

De­spite tak­ing sig­nif­i­cant mea­sures to re­duce risk, ad­vanced first aid and emer­gency res­cue train­ing was vi­tal. The team re­ceived ex­pert train­ing on the use of their emer­gency packs, for use in case of a crevasse fall or sim­i­lar ma­jor in­ci­dent. “The pur­pose of the train­ing was to learn how to use the equip­ment to res­cue not just other mem­bers of the team should they fall into a crack, but also our­selves if we fall in and there is no one around to help us out,” says Prick­ett.

En­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact

The ex­pe­di­tion route has been cho­sen based on routes used by other op­er­a­tors, to pro­mote safety and pre­vent the spread of im­pacts to more pris­tine parts of the con­ti­nent. It is ex­pected that en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts will have less than a mi­nor or tran­si­tory im­pact upon Antarc­tica. All waste, in­clud­ing sewage, will be re­moved from the con­ti­nent at the end of the tra­verse, and what­ever can be re­cy­cled will be.

The most sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive im­pacts of the planned ac­tiv­i­ties are at­mo­spheric emis­sions, which can con­trib­ute to the green­house ef­fect and cli­mate change, as well as im­pacts on the ice en­vi­ron­ment (re­lease of grey wa­ter, sewage and pos­si­ble fuel spills), in­clud­ing noise and phys­i­cal dis­tur­bance. In re­sponse to this, all ac­tiv­i­ties will be planned to min­imise fuel use and ve­hi­cles will be main­tained to give the max­i­mum pos­si­ble fuel ef­fi­ciency and min­imise emis­sions of car­bon ox­ides, black smoke and un­burned hy­dro­car­bons. Clean, fil­tered fu­els will be used.

“Part of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth of­fice’s per­mit­ting re­quire­ments to un­der­take the ex­pe­di­tion was that we have a con­tract with an agency that can pro­vide search and res­cue ex­trac­tion of the ex­pe­di­tion come the sum­mer time, should they not make it to the far side of the con­ti­nent. There is no get­ting out dur­ing the win­ter,” ex­plains Adrian McCal­lum, marine science co- or­di­na­tor for The Cold­est Jour­ney. An­other re­quire­ment of the for­eign of­fice was to have a mo­bile base with the fa­cil­i­ties that would be stan­dard at a static Bri­tish Antarc­tic base. This grew the size and scope of the ex­pe­di­tion, to in­clude a sci­en­tific re­search as­pect.

The White Mars pro­ject

Sci­en­tists on The Cold­est Jour­ney will be con­duct­ing a num­ber of ex­per­i­ments, in­clud­ing mea­sur­ing the ef­fects of global cli­mate change on the po­lar ice caps. The White Mars pro­ject will as­sess the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of the ex­pe­di­tion’s ex­treme na­ture on the team. Twenty in­sti­tu­tions from across Com­mon­wealth coun­tries de­signed com­pact ex­per­i­ments, which, through a range of tests be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the ex­pe­di­tion, hope to make unique dis­cov­er­ies about how hu­mans adapt to such ex­treme con­di­tions. For ex­am­ple, an al­tered day-night cy­cle en­ables re­search in re­la­tion to mea­sur­able changes in cir­ca­dian rhythm.

The ex­pe­di­tion will also make ed­u­ca­tional con­tent avail­able to schools. Over 143 000 schools world­wide will be able to ac­cess en­gag­ing, real-time con­tent and stu­dents can fol­low the Ice Team’s progress across the Antarc­tic.

Mo­bile igloos

Two cus­tomised ca­booses will house the crew and science equip­ment for six months. Th­ese 8.5-me­tre con­tain­ers will sit on sledges and be pulled across the snow by the two Cater­pil­lar D6N trac­tors. The team will eat and sleep in one of the heated ca­booses, known as the Stone­hage House, af­ter its spon­sor. The sec­ond ca­boose will house the science and me­chan­i­cal work­shops, as well as be­ing a back-up liv­ing unit. Power for the ca­booses will come from the ve­hi­cle en­gines when th­ese are run­ning, to sup­ply heat, light, en­ergy for snow melt­ing, cook­ing and bat­tery charg­ing.

Eddy Oblowitz, CEO of Stone­hage Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices, ex­plains that there are a num­ber of link­ages be­tween the ex­pe­di­tion and Stone­hage’s philoso­phies. “The Cold­est Jour­ney team will be go­ing ahead de­spite all odds and this speaks to our clients, many of whom are en­trepreneurs who ven­ture into the un­known. This im­bued sense of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, self­dis­cov­ery and the abil­ity to in­spire and mo­ti­vate your­self and oth­ers is at the epicentre of the ex­pe­di­tion mem­bers and of our busi­ness.” Stone­hage is a lead­ing in­de­pen­dent mul­ti­fam­ily of­fice based in South Africa, of­fer­ing com­pre­hen­sive wealth man­age­ment and ad­vi­sory ser­vices to an in­ter­na­tional clien­tele of ul­tra-high net worth fam­i­lies.

The cause

The Cold­est Jour­ney aims to raise $10 mil­lion for See­ing is Believ­ing, a global ini­tia­tive that ex­ists to help tackle avoid­able blind­ness in the de­vel­op­ing world. A col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the In­ter­na­tional Agency for Preven­tion of Blind­ness and Stan­dard Char­tered, the lead spon­sor of the ex­pe­di­tion, See­ing is Believ­ing aims to raise $100 mil­lion by 2020. Ac­cord­ing to the ini­tia­tive, 80 per cent of the world’s blind­ness is avoid­able in that it can be pre­vented or treated, some­times for as lit­tle as $30. Stan­dard Char­tered has com­mit­ted to match­ing all do­na­tions made to this cause.

Fol­low­ing The Cold­est Jour­ney

Thanks to satel­lite tech­nol­ogy, The Cold­est Jour­ney ex­pe­di­tion team can be tracked and stay in touch. A live map on the web­site (www. thecold­estjour­ney.org) re­flects the cur­rent lo­ca­tion of the Ice Team. The team’s progress can also be fol­lowed via Face­book (The Cold­est Jour­ney) and Twit­ter (@cold­estjour­ney).

The ex­pe­di­tion mem­bers will travel through the dark months of win­ter across the po­lar plateau, via the South Pole, at a height above sea level of 3 400 me­tres, where the tem­per­a­ture can be -70 de­grees Cel­sius, or lower. In to­tal, the team will spend an es­ti­mated 273 days on the ice, with the se­lected cross­ing from Crown Bay to McMurdo Sound tak­ing six months. If all goes well, in Fe­bru­ary 2014, the SA Agul­has will col­lect the ex­pe­di­tion mem­bers from McMurdo Sound, Antarc­tica at the com­ple­tion of this epic jour­ney.

Alone on the ice. The Ice Team bid farewell to friends on board the Agul­has. the ex­pe­di­tion was to be led by Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes, who has been de­scribed by the Guin­ness Book of World Records as “the world’s great­est liv­ing ex­plorer.”

The Cat with Stone­hage House and the science ca­boose in tow. Fin­ning en­gi­neer Spencer Smirl and Ice Team mem­ber Ian Prick­ett dur­ing the white­out on 10 Fe­bru­ary, in­volv­ing blow­ing snow verg­ing on a mild bliz­zard and poor vis­i­bil­ity. this is the ul­ti­mate en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge, as no ma­chine of this type has ever been ex­posed to th­ese tem­per­a­tures and the harsh en­vi­ron­ment.

From left: Brian Ne­wham, tra­verse man­ager; Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes; and Ian Prick­ett.

RISKAFRICA’s Hanna Barry with Sir Ran­ulph on board the SA Agul­has in Cape Town, the day be­fore his de­par­ture for Antarc­tica.

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