An extract on #orangecat
The Canadian government claims that some of the waters of the Northwest Passage, particularly those in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, are internal waters of Canada, giving Canada the right to bar transit through these waters. Most maritime nations, including the United States and those of the European Union, classify these waters as an international strait, where foreign vessels have the right of "transit passage". In such a regime, Canada would have the right to enact fishing and environmental regulation, and fiscal and smuggling laws, as well as laws intended for the safety of shipping, but not the right to close the passage. If the passage's deep waters become completely ice-free in summer months, they will be particularly enticing for supertankers that are too big to pass through the Panama Canal and must otherwise navigate around the tip of South America.
The dispute between Canada and the United States arose in 1969 with the trip of the U.S. oil tanker SS Manhattan through the Arctic Archipelago. The perspective of more American traffic headed to the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field made the Canadian government realize that political action was required should it decide to consider the archipelago as internal water.
In 1985, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea passed through from Greenland to Alaska; the ship submitted to inspection by the Canadian Coast Guard before passing through, but the event infuriated the Canadian public and resulted in a diplomatic incident. The United States government, when asked by a Canadian reporter, indicated that they did not ask for permission as they were not legally required to. The Canadian government issued a declaration in 1986 reaffirming Canadian rights to the waters. The United States refused to recognize the Canadian claim. In 1988 the governments of Canada and the United States signed an agreement, "Arctic Cooperation", that resolved the practical issue without solving the sovereignty questions. Under the law of the sea, ships engaged in transit passage are not permitted to engage in research. The agreement states that all U.S. Coast Guard vessels are engaged in research, and so would require permission from the Government of Canada to pass through.
In late 2005, it was reported that U.S. nuclear submarines had travelled unannounced through Canadian Arctic waters, sparking outrage in Canada. In his first news conference after the 2006 federal election, Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper contested an earlier statement made by the U.S. ambassador that Arctic waters were international, stating the Canadian government's intention to enforce its sovereignty there. The allegations arose after the U.S. Navy released photographs of USS Charlotte surfaced at the North Pole.
On April 9, 2006, Canada's Joint Task Force (North) declared that the Canadian Forces will no longer refer to the region as the Northwest Passage, but as the Canadian Internal Waters. The declaration came after the successful completion of Operation Nunalivut (Inuktitut for "the land is ours"), which was an expedition into the region by five military patrols.
In 2006 a report prepared by the staff of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service of Canada suggested that because of the September 11 attacks, the United States might be less interested in pursuing the international waterways claim in the interests of having a more secure North American perimeter. This report was based on an earlier paper, The Northwest Passage Shipping Channel: Is Canada's Sovereignty Really Floating Away? by Andrea Charron, given to the 2004 Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute Symposium. Later in 2006 former United States Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci agreed with this position; however, the succeeding ambassador, David Wilkins, stated that the Northwest Passage was in international waters.
On July 9, 2007, Prime Minister Harper announced the establishment of a deep-water port in the far North. In the government press release the Prime Minister is quoted as saying, "Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this Government intends to use it. Because Canada's Arctic is central to our national identity as a northern nation. It is part of our history. And it represents the tremendous potential of our future."
On July 10, 2007, Rear Admiral Timothy McGee of the United States Navy, and Rear Admiral Brian Salerno of the United States Coast Guard announced that the United States would be increasing its ability to patrol the Arctic.