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Massive cruise ship ushers new era of Arctic tourism

Crystal Serenity, with a length of 230 metres and weighing 68,000 gross tonnes is the largest cruise ship to navigate from Alaska to New York City by way of the Arctic Ocean. The 10-storey ship has 544 cabins and can carry up to 1,070 passengers.

The cruise ship docked on Monday in Cambridge Bay, a hamlet of about 1,700 people in Canada’s Northernmost Nunavut territory. The ship will now dock on Pond Inlet, a small Inuit community of 1,500 people on Baffin Island.

The Northwest Passage, which was first navigated by Ronald Amundsen in 1905, became ice-free and navigable along its entire length without the need for an icebreaker during the last decade.

Birger Vorland, Captain of the cruise ship says:

My countryman, Ronald Amundsen, did the first transit here between 1903 and 1906. We’re going to do it in 32 days and in a lot more comfort.

However, many environmentalists are concerned about the increasing number of cruise ships coming to the Arctic in summer, with some calling it a high-risk, unsustainable voyage. Rod Downie, spokesman of World Wildlife Fund conservation group says:

It’s because the Arctic is in meltdown that this cruise can take place. This year we saw the sea ice crash to a record low for June as it continued its downward spiral. The loss of sea ice is bad news for Arctic species like polar bears, walrus and narwhal, and for Arctic people. This voyage symbolizes the risk of large scale cruise ships operating in the Arctic. The unique wildlife is already stressed by a warming climate and the loss of sea ice, and the arrival of a mega cruise ship in this part of the world could push it further toward the edge.

The Crystal Serenity plans a return visit to the Northwest Passage next year with a new, smaller cruise ship, the Crystal Endeavor. it is highly likely other large ships will follow.

Satellite image showing Northwest Passage.

Satellite image showing Northwest Passage.
NASA Images

Northwest Passage

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