Visitors take pictures of a glacier in the Kongsfjorden fjord from onboard the 'Polarsyssel', the ship of the Governor of Svalbard, in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway, 20 September 2016. Picture taken 20 September 2016. Photo: Gwladys Fouche / REUTERS

[cf. As the world burns, the rich cruise in luxury through a melting Arctic]

By Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Toby Chopra
10 October 2016

SVALBARD, Norway (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.

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. […]

Another concern is environmental. "Potentially, an accident involving a mega-ship could represent an environmental disaster," said Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten, a cruise ship operator in the Arctic and the Antarctic, whose biggest ships can accommodate 646 passengers.

Cruise ships usually use heavy oil, a type of fuel that takes longer to break down in the event of a spill. The Crystal Serenity did not use heavy oil during its trip, its operator has said.

"Heavy oil in cold conditions is sticky and takes much longer time to break down so it has a prolonged effect on the environment," said Marco Lambertini, director-general of World Wildlife Fund International.

"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," he told Reuters. [more]

Uncharted waters: Mega-cruise ships sail the Arctic



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