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 USD 19,755 (GBP 15,961) for a berth on Crystal Serenity, which left Anchorage Alaska 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 Crystal Cruises cruised an isolated route first navigated by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1903.
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. Navigation in icy waters is more difficult due to poor satellite data. An ice field might move at a speed of 4-5 kn, but a ship will receive satellite imagery that is 10-20 hours old.
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.
An UN Polar Code comes into effect in 2017 to toughen demands on ship safety and sea pollution. It bans heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic region, but in the Arctic it merely encourages ships not to use it.
It was suggested ships size to be limited and the heavy oil use banned. the Crystal cruise ship was escorted in the Canadian Arctic by the RRS Ernest Shackleton icebreaker.