The northwest passage is by far the most extraordinary trip  I have ever made

The northwest passage is by far the most extraordinary trip I have ever made

Interview with Captain Richard de Rijk about his experiences on the MV Amazoneborg, which sailed the Northwest Passage twice this season
Richard de Rijk

Interview with

Richard de Rijk


Can you tell something about your background and the best trips you have made?


“After sailing on chemical tankers for a number of years, I joined Wagenborg in 2006 as 2nd officer. Within the company I have grown to 1st officer and since the beginning of 2015 I have been working as a captain. During my time at Wagenborg I made many beautiful and diverse journeys, especially with the A and T class ships. I have literally been all over the world and have visited almost all continents by ship. In this context, shipping “concrete parts” from Dublin to Milne Inlet was a special journey for me. This trip was my first introduction to Canadian Arctic waters: my interest in this unknown area was born. This year’s Northwest Passage is by far the most extraordinary trip I have ever made.”

What was the moment when you heard that you were going to sail the northwest passage?

“In May 2019, the first cautious sounds were circulating that there was a possibility that the Amazoneborg would be planned for a Northwest Passage. I was on leave at the time, but together with my wife - we live in the Philippines; we were on vacation in the Netherlands - I visited the Amazoneborg in Ghent. During my ship visit they were already busy with the necessary preparations to prepare the ship for a possible Northwest Passage later in the year.“

And then planning became reality: in September Mv Amazoneborg was nominated for a northwest passage. How did you prepare for this trip from that moment?

“From the moment I heard that the Amazoneborg was planned for a Northwest Passage, I regularly started to look on the internet for ice conditions in the Arctic during my leave. Once on board, with the entire crew we started to explore and prepare for this special passage. With special “Polar drills” for example, we have made the crew aware of the extra safety equipment that is required to have on board in this region. We also held a “polar briefing” during our monthly safety committee. This is to inform and instruct the crew about the passage and the extra measures we have taken with associated duties and activities. For example, a 24/7 watch is one of those extra precautions that contributes to safe navigation in these types of areas.“

"It is really different than a regular trip, because it contains many unknown aspects for everyone."

The actual journey came closer and closer during preparations. What did you imagine in advance for this trip?


“Of course, I had already been to Milne Inlet, so I could imagine what the area would look like. Furthermore, there is of course a lot unknown. That naturally makes it extra exciting. You only really know what you will encounter during the passage.”

And then you finally boarded. How did it go?

“I got on board in Kunsan in South Korea. The final preparations for the Northwest Passage were still being made, such as the installation of a second searchlight and an iridium telephone. After this, we could leave. We first had to release woodpulp in Changshu and then sailed to Lianyungang to load. This was not without a struggle. We were just able to get away just in time for the typhoon “Lekima”, which moved towards the Yangtze Delta. Fortunately we were off the Yangtze River just in time and we were able to sail right east, avoiding the typhoon. After Lianyungang we left for the far north. We picked up our ice navigator in Nome, Alaska.”

I can imagine that this trip is different from a regular trip. What were the most challenging and special moments en route for you?

“Sailing the Northwest Passage is a special experience in itself. Beautiful passages for example at Bellot Strait and Fury and Hecla Strait. Or Aurora Borealis during the night and regularly whales, narwhals and seals en route! It is really different than a regular trip, because it contains many unknown aspects for everyone. The route is only relatively recently navigable for commercial shipping. There are also several obstacles that you have to take into account, such as limited information, ice fields and icebergs. There were a number of challenging moments en route, where extra attention was needed. Especially the first contact with ice fields - that is, multi-year old ice - requires extremely careful navigation. For example, during our passage through “ice-mountain alley” in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, we had to watch out for icebergs, but especially for smaller “growlers” that are difficult to detect on the radar. During the second Northwest Passage, the season was almost ending, making ice conditions challenging. Fortunately, icebreaker ‘Terry Fox’ escorted us through the ice fields in Larsen Sound and Victoria Strait. Incidentally, the risk is not just navigation through the ice; there can also be a lot of current on some relatively narrow sections, such as Bellot Strait, which you should all be aware of.”

"Good preparations and professional cooperation between shore and ship remain essential to make every passage a successful passage."

Cooperation is therefore more important than ever on such a journey. What can you tell about this?

“I had an ice navigator on board during both Northwest Passages. An ice navigator has been working in the Canadian Arctic for many years and is therefore a source of information. In daily practice he assists me on the bridge. This is an important factor with regard to the choice of route, interpretation of the ice map and navigation in polar ice. Including the trip to Milne Inlet I have now experienced three ice navigators and nothing but praise for these men. But the cooperation and communication outside the ship also went very well! The various departments within Wagenborg provided excellent assistance during both the preparations and the passage. It is still a relatively new trade for everyone; collaboration and sharing of experience is therefore very important. Providing daily ice and weather forecasts from the office was an important source of information for us to navigate safely in this area, since ice and weather conditions play the largest role in the Arctic.“

And again after the first time: just as special or is it almost routine?

“I feel very privileged that we have been able to make two passages in one season with the Amazoneborg. I could never have imagined that in advance. It seems that we are the first ship ever to sail from Asia to Canada and back via the NWP in one season - under the same “command”. The second passage was certainly not a routine. Of course we were better able to estimate what was in store for us in general, but the ice and weather conditions were completely different during the second passage. This brought other challenges to our path. We also sailed the second passage via a different route, via Fury & Hecla Strait. This route is rarely used by commercial shipping, because it is often blocked throughout the summer by ice, but was now completely ice-free. During the second passage we also needed assistance from ice-breaker “Terry Fox” through some ice fields in Larsen Sound.“

What did you tell the home front on the way about the northwest passage?

“Of course the home front is very curious about what it looks like in the Northwest Passage and what we all come across. It is actually a landscape that can be compared to a Mars landscape. You are far above the tree line and therefore nothing grows. Photos then ultimately give the best picture of what we are experiencing and because we have internet on board, everyone was able to keep the home front regularly informed.”

Finally, did you experience anything else on the way that is worth mentioning?


“In the coming years we will perhaps sail more in this region. We must continue to regard this passage as something special at all times and continue to treat it that way. Good preparations and professional cooperation between shore and ship remain essential to make every passage a successful passage. I would also like to thank all crew members of the Amazoneborg for the professional and enthusiastic commitment during these trips. The entire crew was very passionate and involved, both with regard to the preparations and the implementation of both passages.“

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