Development dilemma as eastern Greenland eyes tourism boost

US President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland. Now increasing numbers of tourists also have their eyes on the Danish territory. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 October 2019

Development dilemma as eastern Greenland eyes tourism boost

KULUSUK, Denmark: Kayaking past blue-white icebergs drifting along near a pristine harbor, wandering around colorful houses or trekking in the snow-capped wilderness: July and August are high season for tourists in eastern Greenland.
Many of the 85,000 tourists who visit each year head to the west coast, but eastern Greenland, with its glaciers, wilderness and wildlife starring whales and polar bears, is also drawing visitors.
Sarah Bovet, a 29-year-old Swiss artist, said it’s hard to know what to expect.
“Thinking you’re going to be surprised, you are even more so in reality,” she said standing outside a hostel in the tiny village of Kulusuk.
Bovet was on an artistic residency in Greenland when she visited Kulusuk and its 250 souls.
Although she had imagined a small village before arriving, its stunning views and bright colors still came as a surprise.
With just one supermarket, an airport built in the 1950s by the US military to serve a Cold War radar base, and a harbor surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, most of the villagers appreciate the extra revenue from tourism.
Justus Atuaq, a young hunter in Kulusuk, takes tourists out on sled tours in March and April — the spring high season — earning money that helps him feed and care for the dogs he uses for racing and hunting.
“Now I can take dogsleds for hunting, and sometimes tourists coming from other countries also want to dogsled,” he said outside his wooden house.




Residents in the village of Kulusuk welcome extra tourist revenue, but some worry about the effect of rising visitor numbers on the region’s wilderness. (AFP)

Tourists also take boat trips during the summer high season from July to August.
Arrivals to the island grew 10 percent year-on-year from 2014 to 2017, and three percent in 2018, according to the tourist board, Visit Greenland.
Many adventure seekers and nature lovers arrive by plane, but cruise ships also bring admirers, hugging the picture perfect coastline.
But they are not alone in taking an interest in the world’s largest island.
The Danish territory’s rich natural resources and growing strategic importance as the Arctic ice sheet melts have attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump.
The Arctic region has untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals, as well as abundant stocks of fish and shrimp.
In August, Trump offered to buy Greenland, then called off a visit to Copenhagen over its refusal to sell.
Denmark colonized Greenland in the 1700s, granting it autonomy in 1979.
Today, many Greenlandic political parties advocate full independence.
The territory still receives an annual subsidy from Copenhagen, which was 4.3 billion Danish kroner (576 million euros) in 2017, and tourism could help it to become economically self-reliant.
Like many parts of Greenland, Kulusuk has no tarmac roads and visitors must travel by plane or boat.
The growth in tourism could put a strain on the village’s infrastructure, and the sector faces unique challenges given Greenland’s location, weather and the cost of traveling there.
Day tours of Kulusuk with flights from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik are 97,000 Icelandic kronur ($780, 700 euros).
Jakob Ipsen, a 48-year-old who grew up between Denmark and Greenland’s west coast, runs Kulusuk’s sole hotel.
The 32-room hotel stands beside a fjord, and from its dining room, guests can watch icebergs drift by during the summer.
But the region’s isolation can be problematic, Ipsen admits.
“We have to get all our supplies in with the first ship for the whole summer season, and for the winter season when everything is frozen over, we have to get all our supplies in with the last ship for the whole winter,” he said.
Greenland must tackle its infrastructure challenges if it wants to develop tourism, Visit Greenland says.
Government-funded work is under way to extend runways at the capital Nuuk and Ilulissat, both on the west coast, and a new airport is planned in the south.
The tourist body said it would weigh the environmental impact of boosting infrastructure, both on the environment and on local communities.
Ipsen worries about the effects of uncontrolled tourism to the region.
“We want to try to maintain it as it is, so it’s not exploding,” he said.
Already, said Johanna Bjork Sveinbjornsdottir, who runs tours in Kulusuk for an Iceland-based company, the rise in visitor numbers is making itself felt.
“In the campsites here out in nature where you used to be alone, there’s two, three groups at a time,” she said.
Like Ipsen, she is also concerned about the effect that rising visitor numbers could have on the wilderness around the village.
“If you want nature to survive that, you have to build up the infrastructure,” she said, pointing to the lack of officially designated campsites around Kulusuk, with no rubbish bins or toilets for travelers outdoors and no one supervising the sites.
Despite the concerns, Sveinbjornsdottir hopes visitors will keep coming.
“They go back as different people,” she said. “Everything is beyond what you ever imagined.”


Oil tankers ‘go dark’ off Venezuela to beat tariffs

Updated 20 min 3 sec ago

Oil tankers ‘go dark’ off Venezuela to beat tariffs

  • High-risk tricks allow ‘rogue ships’ to evade US sanctions, industry insiders warn

MIAMI: In May, after pulling out of a Chinese shipyard for repairs, a giant oil tanker set out on a perilous journey.

Dialing in “Caribbean” on a mandatory tracking system, the captain of the Liberia-flagged vessel headed west. Then, weeks later, as it neared Venezuelan waters, the VL Nichioh suddenly stopped transmitting its location, course and speed in violation of international maritime rules, essentially vanishing on the high seas without a trace.

What happened while the ship was offline remains a mystery. But when it resurfaced nine days later while steaming toward Asia, the Nichioh was riding low in the water — a sure sign to ship-tracking experts that it had turned off its transponder to cloak a valuable cargo targeted by US sanctions: Venezuelan crude oil.

As the Trump administration has clamped down on President Nicolas Maduro with sanctions set on depriving him of easy cash from Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, some ship captains and their employers are eager to help the embattled socialist by “going dark” to hide tankers brimming with crude.

But industry experts say this evasive behavior, perfected by what the US considers rogue ships transporting oil for Iran in violation of US sanctions, comes at a great risk.

“These ships are carrying
2 million barrels of crude oil,” said Russ Dallen, the Miami-based head of Caracas Capital Markets brokerage, who tracks maritime activity near Venezuela to identify sanctions-busting activity. “They can’t be blindly wandering around in the dark. It’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen.”

Under a United Nations maritime treaty, ships of over 300 tons have been required since 2004 to use what is known as an automated identification system to avoid collisions and assist rescues in the event of a spill or accident at sea.

While ship captains have the discretion to turn off the transponders as they traverse flashpoints like the Strait of Hormuz, or to evade pirates off the coast of Somalia, ship-monitoring companies have become adept at tracking a vessel’s movements and draft to help law enforcement monitor for sanctions violations and criminal behavior.

Until recently, tankers docking in Venezuela had little reason to switch off their transponders — a tactic more associated with illegal Chinese fishermen off the Pacific coast of South America or human traffickers in the eastern Mediterranean.

But in January, after Maduro was sworn in for a second term many nations considered illegitimate, the Trump administration barred US companies from dealing with the Venezuelan state-run oil giant PDVSA and threatened retaliation against foreign companies that continue to do business with it.

As part of that offensive, PDVSA’s entire fleet of 34 vessels was frozen, essentially barred from ports in the US and other Western nations, as well as a several private fleets caught delivering oil to Maduro’s ally Cuba. The move has accelerated a collapse in Venezuela’s crude production to its lowest level in seven decades despite sitting atop the world’s largest crude reserves.

“Once blacklisted, these vessels become lepers and are very hard to operate,” said Omer Primor, head of marketing at Windward, a maritime analytics firm that assists law enforcement in hunting down potential sanctions violators. “Nobody will deal with them, so they essentially become floating storage devices.”

In the nine months since sanctions were imposed, there have been 14 suspicious dark activities spotted near Venezuelan waters, according to Windward. That is about 22 percent of the 50 reported port calls to Venezuela during the same period, a sharp decline in above-board maritime traffic in the nine months prior to sanctions.

Windward said that most of the cloaked crude is going to China or Russia — Maduro’s two biggest financial backers, for whom US sanctions are less of a deterrent — as well as India.

There are other tricks companies use to duck detection, such as reporting a false destination, frequently changing management or carrying out high-risk ship-to-ship transfers in which “dark” vessels come together on the high seas to hand over their cargo. Officials in Brazil initially suspected a dark ship loaded with Venezuelan crude of being behind a mysterious spill last month that has hit 2,100 km of coastline.

In the case of the Nichioh, it unloaded cargo in early September in the Indian port of Sikka, where Reliance Industries runs the world’s largest refinery. It then sailed through the Suez Canal and Strait of Gibraltar, reporting as its destination “Carribs for Order.”

But after docking for a few days in Trinidad, the Nichioh switched to “Aruba” and went dark for 10 days, once again picking up Venezuelan crude, according to ship-tracking firm Kpler. As of Nov. 12, the ship was heading past South Africa en route to China.

According to Kpler the two voyages by the Nichioh were chartered by Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft, which itself has been sanctioned by the US for the crisis with Ukraine. Prior to US sanctions, the ship had never reported sailing in the Western Hemisphere.

The ship’s registered owner, a Liberia-based company named Major Shipping SA, could not be located for comment. Liberia is one of the world’s most popular flag states because owners can register ships with few restrictions and little more than an email address. Most of the dark activities spotted by Windward off Venezuela involved Liberia-registered ships.

But it’s not just aging hulks at the fringes of the maritime industry cashing in on Venezuela’s desperation.

In June, Cosrising Lake, owned by an affiliate of China’s shipping giant Cosco, went silent for 14 days after loading 1.9 million barrels of crude in the Venezuelan port of Jose, according to Kpler. A few weeks later, it unloaded its cargo in the Chinese port of Dongjiakou.

Cosco didn’t say why the Hong Kong-flagged ship went silent. But in a statement, it said that it operates in compliance with laws and regulations and that its ships have maintained normal operations of their AIS systems in accordance with the international convention for the safety of life at sea.

The Trump administration is also looking into reports that Hurd’s Bank off the coast of Malta is becoming a staging ground for ship-to-ship transfers to hide Russia’s supplying of chemicals that Venezuela’s industry desperately needs to dilute its heavy crude, a senior US official said. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Previously Venezuela imported diluents from the US

“Criminals connected to Venezuela are getting increasingly creative as they manipulate the laws that govern international maritime commerce to bypass sanctions,” said Ian Ralby, head of I.R. Consilium, a US-based consultancy.

“Authorities in the region and beyond need to be both alert and proactive in preventing the Maduro regime from using illicit activity to convert Venezuelan resources into cash.”