- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

TUKTOYAKTUK, Northwest Territories (AP) | Canada’s prime minister moved to firm up control of disputed Arctic waters by announcing stricter registration requirements for ships sailing in the Northwest Passage.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday that all ships sailing into the Canadian Arctic will be required to report to NORDREG, the Canadian Coast Guard agency that tracks vessels on such journeys. Such registration is now voluntary.

Canada’s control of the Northwest Passage is widely disputed internationally, including by the United States and the European Union. Most countries consider the passage to be international waters.

The rapid melting of polar ice has raised speculation that the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans could one day become a regular shipping lane.

Ships currently must register with NORDREG to gain access to Canadian Coast Guard information on weather and ice conditions, and the great majority of them do. Private pleasure craft, however, usually don’t. In the past, some cruise ships have also sailed into the passage without telling the coast guard.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the new requirements would be enforced. Nor did Mr. Harper spell out sanctions for failing to register.

Mr. Harper has recently been hinting at a fall election and Arctic sovereignty is expected to become a major plank in his election platform.

Mr. Harper also said his government will also double the jurisdiction of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act to 233 miles from Canadian shores. The act prohibits the deposit of waste in Arctic waters from either land or ship sources, tougher rules than what’s followed in international waters.

“These measures will send a clear message to the world,” Mr. Harper said. “Canada takes full responsibility for environmental protection and enforcement in our Arctic waters.”

The move is just the latest Harper initiative to burnish his Arctic credentials in advance of an anticipated fall election, which is expected to be called next week.

The Harper government has pledged billions on military and coast guard spending and created a number of vast new parks and protected areas. On Tuesday, Mr. Harper said Canada is planning to map energy and mineral resources in its Arctic region in a bid to encourage development and assert its sovereignty in the far north. Canada also has vowed to increase its icebreaker fleet and build two new military facilities in the Arctic.

Mr. Harper has said it is estimated that a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas lies under the Arctic.

“As an environmental matter, as a security matter and as an economic matter we are making it perfectly clear that not only do we claim jurisdiction over the Canadian Arctic, we are also going to put the full resources of the government of Canada behind enforcing that jurisdiction,” Mr. Harper said.

The U.S., Russia, Denmark and Norway also have been attempting to assert their jurisdiction in the Arctic. All three countries have been competing in front of a United Nations commission to extend their undersea boundaries into areas usually blocked by Arctic ice.

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