Sailing Across Arctic: Mega-Cruise Ships Sail the Arctic

SVALBARD, Norway, Oct 10 (Reuters) – A surge in Arctic tourism is bringing ever bigger cruise ships to the formerly isolated, ice-bound region, prompting calls for a clamp-down to prevent Titanic-style accidents and the pollution of fragile eco-systems.

Arctic nations should consider limiting the size of vessels and ban the use of heavy fuel oil in the region, industry players said, after a first luxury cruise ship sailed safely through Canada’s Northwest Passage this summer.

The route, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Arctic, was once clogged with icebergs but is now ice-free in summer due to global warming.

With a minimum ticket price of $19,755, the 1,700 passengers and crew on board the Crystal Serenity followed – in reverse – the route first navigated more than a century ago by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. They left Anchorage in Alaska on Aug. 15 and docked in New York on Sep. 16.

 

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The ship’s operator, Crystal Cruises, says on its website it will repeat the voyage in 2017. It declined a request for comment when contacted by Reuters.

Two shipping executives expressed concern that the one-off trip could become a trend, citing worries over safety, risks to the environment and the impact on small communities, in an area where there is no port between Anchorage and Nuuk, in Greenland.

“The Northwest Passage is thousands and thousands of nautical miles with absolutely nothing … There is a need to discuss possible regulation,” said Tero Vauraste, the CEO of Arctia, a Finnish shipping firm specializing in icebreakers.

Were a ship to be in trouble in the Northwest Passage, there would be little authorities could do given the lack of infrastructure, he said.

“So we must do everything we can do to prevent this,” said Vauraste, who is also vice-chair of the Arctic Economic Council, a regional forum for business cooperation between Arctic nations.

Navigation in icy waters is made more difficult by poor satellite imagery. “An ice field might move at a speed of 4-5 knots, but a ship will receive a satellite picture of it that is 10-20 hours old,” said Vauraste. “We need better quality imagery.”

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