Last updated: 01:30 PM ET, Tue October 11 2016

Large Arctic Cruises Sparking Calls For Environmental Regulation

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Gabe Zaldivar | October 11, 2016

Large Arctic Cruises Sparking Calls For Environmental Regulation

PHOTO: U.S. Coast Guard cutter just off Alaska. (Photo courtesy Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)


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The good news is the arctic is quickly becoming an attainable tourist destination. The absolutely awful news is that it’s all thanks to global warming, and its effects are causing a great deal of trepidation from the cruise industry over a passage that lacks proper infrastructure.

Reuters’ Gwladys Fouche reports on the growing likelihood that the arctic welcomes more and more ships during warmer months – something that would have been unthinkable before considering the giant blocks of ice that previously adorned the area.

The report focuses on the intrepid voyage of the Crystal Serenity that sailed from Alaska to New York through previously closed off passages.

As Fouche writes, “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.”

As you may have concluded, there are bound to be issues that arise with pioneering across a swath of barren ocean devoid of the kind of ports and infrastructure that usually welcomes other cruise passages.

Fouche spoke with two experts on the ramifications of such a budding industry: Tero Vauraste who is the CEO of Arctia Group and Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten.

Vauraste explains: “The Northwest Passage is thousands and thousands of nautical miles with absolutely nothing ... There is a need to discuss possible regulation.”

The point is raised that an emergency wouldn’t get the expedient help it may otherwise in a place more replete with ports and there is also the issue of navigation.

Vauraste continues: “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. We need better quality imagery.”

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Skjeldam chimes in with another major issue, the possible impact on the environment: “Potentially, an accident involving a mega-ship could represent an environmental disaster.”

Marco Lambertini of the World Wildlife Fund International expounds on what this could mean to the area: “Heavy oil in cold conditions is sticky and takes much longer time to break down so it has a prolonged effect on the environment. If something happens at the beginning of winter, no cleanup can be done. Oil can get trapped under the ice and travel for a hundred kilometers.”

YouTube’s Tom Scott posted a recent video that centered on the very issue of the arctic soon welcoming passing ships where glaciers once stood.

Scott even raises the question of sovereignty of the area. As Canada considers the passage belonging to its nation other countries may see it as International waters.

As you would expect, the initial reaction upon seeing a more open arctic is to jump at the opportunity and begin filling the area with cruise and shipping vessels taking advantage of a route carved out by climate change.

As Reuters points out, there are so many issues that come with a heavily used arctic passage that further study might be needed before travel to the area ramps up further.

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