Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) and H2OSatellite provided critical satellite communications for Beluga Shipping’s successful pioneering transit of the challenging Northeast Passage this summer. The Beluga ships relied on Iridium OpenPort high-bandwidth marine satellite systems supplied by H2OSatellite for voice and data links throughout their voyage through the extreme Northern waterways, most of which are not reliably covered by any other long-range communication service.
The exact position the two Beluga Shipping heavy lift project carriers stated in an e-mail to the Russian administration was 70° 16.7’ North – 057° 33.4’ East as they completed the historic voyage. Regarded as the Northeast Passage’s official exit in a westerly direction by the Russian administration, the MV Beluga Fraternity passed the Nowaja Semlja archipelago on September 12, 2009, and sister vessel MV Beluga Foresight followed, leaving this symbolic spot in its backwash on September 16, 2009.
“By the completion of the Northeast Passage transit, and previously the safe offloading of the cargo in a rather remote area in Siberia, we have opened the gate to a seaway which will further gain in importance in the future,” said Niels Stolberg, founder, president and CEO, Beluga Shipping GmbH.
The prospect of a successful Northeast Passage transit has only recently become feasible during a limited summer thaw window. In line with its company philosophy and commitment to innovation in products and procedures, Beluga Shipping realized the potential of the Northern sea route and began planning the challenging project more than 12 months ago.
As part of the intensive work by Beluga’s meteorologists, masters, chartering and operations departments, and safety and security experts, Beluga approached its satellite communications partner, H2OSatellite, to advise on the best equipment to ensure dependable, uninterrupted communications at high latitude. H2OSatellite, which provides both airtime and e-mail across the large Beluga fleet, had no hesitation in recommending the vessels be fitted with the new Iridium OpenPort high-bandwidth marine satcom system. Iridium OpenPort provides three independent voice circuits and a separate data connection scalable up to 128 kbps, all of which can be used simultaneously without interference.
As a former mariner, Robert Kenworthy, managing director of H2OSatellite, a Global Technology Ltd company, understood all too well the risks and challenges for the crews taking on the Northeast Passage and how crucial reliable communications were going to be.
The Beluga F-class vessels MV Beluga Fraternity and MV Beluga Foresight, both 12,744 deadweight tons (dwt), carried crews of 15 or 16 men and transported power plant equipment destined for the city of Surgut. The specialist ice class E3 heavy lift carriers have up to 360 metric tons crane capacity and, amongst the cargo, generators and 44 power plant modules weighing in excess of 200 tons each. Having been the first company to successfully use the Northeast Passage as a commercial route, Beluga Shipping believes that the opportunity to cut 3,000 nautical miles off the common route through the Suez Canal means others might soon follow.