Titanic-Style Disaster Awaits Arctic Cruises

By ,   October 11, 2016 ,   Cruise Industry

The first luxury ship sailed this summer through Arctic's remote Northwest Passage, prompting fears and safety concerns. Some 1,700 passengers paid at least $19,755 (£15,961) for a berth on Crystal Serenity, which left Anchorage on August 15.

It cruised through the Canadian Arctic passage along the northern coast of North America, before docking in New York a month later. There is no port on the journey between Alaska and Greenland. The vessel, owned by American operator Crystal Cruises, traversed an isolated route first navigated by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1903.

Crystal Serenity

Although climate change means the region is iceberg free in summer, two shipping executives fear a disaster unless guidelines are brought in to protect passengers and the environment.

Tero Vauraste, boss of Finnish shipping firm Arctia, warned there would be little authorities could do if a ship got into distress there, due to the lack of infrastructure.

"The Northwest Passage is thousands and thousands of nautical miles with absolutely nothing," he said.

"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.

"There is a need to discuss possible regulation … so we must do everything we can do to prevent this."

A problem with a ship in the Arctic Ocean could also be especially serious for the environment, the experts say. 

Cruise ships usually use a type of fuel known as "heavy oil" that takes longer to break down in the event of a spill in cold conditions and which can get trapped under the ice.

Although Crystal Serenity's operator said the ship did not use such fuel during its trip, Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of cruise ship operator Hurtigruten, fears a tragedy unless regulations are tightened.

"Potentially, an accident involving a mega-ship could represent an environmental disaster," he said.

An United Nations Polar Code will come into effect in 2017 which toughens demands on ship safety and pollution. It bans heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic region, but in the Arctic it merely encourages ships not to use it.

Mr Skjeldam suggested ships size could be limited and the use of the oil banned, and that Arctic countries should come together to coordinate "stronger regulations".

Source: news.sky.com