Transglobal Car Expedition, an Arctic expedition crewed by team members from Iceland, Ukraine, Russia, Canada, and the US, has issued an apology to Inuit communities in Taloyoak, Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory which is independently governed by Inuit peoples. The apology comes after one of the teams modified Ford F150s, provided by Icelandic company Arctic Trucks, sank through the ice while crossing the Tasmania Islands at the end of March. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports that indigenous hunters and trappers in the area are concerned that the truck, which contained 40-litres of fuel, as well as other fluid and a back-up generator, is going to leak and contaminate an ecosystem that the local communities depend on for their sustenance and livelihood.
Emil Grimsson, the founder of Arctic Trucks and one of the Icelandic members of the team, says that they are “very sorry” for what’s happened, and that it’s “very likely” that the sunken truck will be recovered, but that nothing will be done to retrieve it until the end of May, after doing a risk, cost and permit assessment.
The incident feels like “a stab in the back” says Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association, as the area where the truck currently rests on the ocean floor is a major migration route for beluga whales, narwhals, seals, walruses, and Arctic char.
“We live off the land,” Oleekatalik continued. “We’re not farmers. We’re hunters and gatherers, and we need our game to be clean. We want [the wreckage] cleaned out as quickly as possible.”
‘No way for us to expect for it to change that much’
The expedition has claimed to be the “first-ever overland wheeled journey from the continental shelf of North America to the High Arctic,” and was staging a month-long ‘pre-run’ from Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, to Resolute Bay in Nunavut, prior to the full expedition that was set to take place next year and would travel from the southern tip of South America to the North Pole and then down through Greenland, mainland Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The team made it to Resolute with their modified F150s and amphibious vehicles, and then some members turned back around with the goal of returning the F150s to Yellowknife. They did not, however, bring their ice thickness scanner, but chose instead to rely on data they’d gathered days before, which showed that the ice they’d be driving over was 50 cm [20 in] thick. In reality, however, it was only 15 cm [6 in] thick.
One of the trucks stopped mid-journey and began to sink through the ice. Icelandic team member Torfi Johansson had just enough time to warn the other truck over radio before he and his fellow passenger, a hunter hired to protect the group from polar bears, piled out a side door. Torfi had time to pull bags containing clothes and shelter from the truck before it fully submerged and then he and his three companions huddled in the remaining vehicle until daylight, ready to leap out should their second truck also begin to sink. They were eventually rescued by helicopter.
“We were [there] just five days ago,” Torfi was quoted as saying. “No way for us to expect for it to change that much, in that amount of time.”
‘We could have advised them’
Aside from understandable concerns about pollution from the sunken truck, one of the local community’s main points of dismay is precisely that there was, in fact, a way for the team to have known about the danger that the ice thickness would change that quickly. The incident would have been entirely avoidable, they say, if only the Transglobal Car team had consulted them.
The Tasmania Islands are incredibly dangerous at this time of year, Oleekatalik explained to CBC, because the water current below the ice flows really fast. “We could have at least advised them of areas where there’s fast water and open polynyas or places where it’s dangerous to travel,” said Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association chairperson Joe Ashevak. “[We] could at least tell them that some areas of [the] ocean is unsafe for heavy vehicles to travel on.”
“They should have consulted with us,” continued Oleekatalik, who said that the local community would have even provided a guide. “This is our hunting ground. This is our livelihood. This is what we know.”
Environmental concerns ‘a bit overestimated’
Even prior to the sinking of the truck in Nunavut, the Transglobal Car Expedition had made headlines for questionable choices made in the trip’s execution from the get-go. The crew flew into Yellowknife on a Russian charter flight at the start of March. This was a violation of airspace regulations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Transport Canada fined a Russian team member responsible for chartering the plane, as well as its two pilots and the aircraft operator.
Emil Grimsson said that unexpected challenges had distracted the team from better planning and research while in Yellowknife. “We could have done better,” he said. “The thing we need to do is learn, we need to know who to talk to.”
He also maintained that the indigenous community’s concerns about contamination from fuel leakage were perhaps “a bit overestimated” and said he believed that the vehicle could be expected to leak “less than a litre” of fuel over the course of several years.
“[The truck] is at a depth of six to eight metres [20-26 ft] and it looks as good right now as you could hope for,” Emil explained to RÚV. “We learned a lot from this and want to have a good collaboration with the hunting association in every way. Today, there’s a 99% chance that this will be resolved without their concerns becoming a reality.”
Nothing will be done with the vehicle for now, however: “We’re not going to do anything until the ice is gone.”