The first large cruise ship to sail through Canada’s Northwest Passage is reportedly on the way with 1000 passengers keen to view polar bears and walrus.
Crystal Serenity is departing Anchorage, Alaska and is due to reach New York in a month. The route has been ice-free only in recent years, with temperatures in the Arctic rising twice as fast as the world average. The voyage is likely to spearhead a new big-ship Arctic tourism push which has environmentalists worried.
Conservationists are concerned about fumes and the possibility of future ships spilling oil or other pollution into one of the world’s most pristine areas.
The Arctic and the Antarctic are the hottest new regions on the cruising horizon, Cruise Critic’s editor-in-chief Carolyn Spencer Brown told the BBC.
WWF’s UK Polar program manager, Rod Downie, says Arctic wildlife is already stressed by a warming climate and loss of sea ice. He does not welcome the prospect of mega-cruise ships sailng there.
Crystal Cruises describes the cruise as a “world away from the sunny Mediterranean and the Caribbean’s white sandy beaches”.
In a statement, Crystal Cruises said it had been “working on this project since 2013 and will be implementing a number of additional precautions to ensure the safety of all guests and crew, as well as to protect the pristine environment”.
The line is burning ultra low-sulphur-content marine gas oil. Some Crystal Serenity passengers are reputedly paying about USD 120,000 for the cruise.
Critics are not so concerned about Crystal Serenity, but more about other ships that might sail in its wake if the route becomes accepted. Cruising is enormously popular and China is seen as the next massive market. Purpose-built cruise ships catering for Chinese are deigned with less open deck space, as Chinese do not generally like being in the open sun.
The US is still by far the largest market for cruises and Alaska is the logical departure point for Arctic cruises. Even the recent profit revision by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (following a softening in demand for US cruises to Europe in the wake of terrorism) did not dent the market for long. Investors were reported this week to be jumping at NCL stock and the money is flowing in.
Written by Peter Needham