Northwest Passage is an Arctic Ocean route in North America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The route goes along the Canada's northern coast via Arctic waterways (sea channels) through the Canadian Arctic islands. All the Arctic sea waterways that separate these islands are known as "Northwest Passages" and also as "Northwestern Passages".
- As result of the Vikings' westward explorations, hunting expeditions and Greenland settlements, they sailed west and north reaching the islands Ellesmere, Skraeling and Ruin, trading here with the Inuit people.
- The Northwest Passage route was officially discovered by Sir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure (1807-1873, an Irish explorer). In 1850, he transited the Northwest Passage (by boat and sledge) as part of his circumnavigation of both Americas.
- The Northwest Passage's eastern entrance was found in 1819. During the 1903–1905 expedition, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) transited the Canadian Artic passage. This was the world's first actual ship crossing of the Passage, as Amundsen used a small expedition ship (schooner, named "Gjoa") hugging the coast.
- In 1957, three USCG Cutters (Bramble, SPAR, Storis) were the first-ever motor ships to cross the Passage route with length approx 7250 km (4500 mi) in 64 days.
- In 1969, the ice-strengthened supertanker SS Manhattan was the ever first cargo ship that traversed the Passage. The vessel was accompanied (assisted) by the Canadian icebreaker ship John MacDonald. This voyage was only done to test the Passage as an alternative to the Alaska Pipeline project. The Passage was determined not economical and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was built (between 1974-1977).
Until 2009, throughout most of the pack ice in the region prevented regular Arctic Ocean shipping traffic. Nowadays, the Arctic shrinkage has rendered this route more navigable. There are contested sovereignty claims over the Arctic Ocean waters (see below) that further complicate marine shipping through the Northwest Passage. Canada considers these passages part of the country's internal waterways. USA and some European countries claim these are international waterways (including the transit passage). Another complication is that the Passage's eastern end has depth just 15 m (49 ft) which reduces the route's viability as a marine shipping route.
A Chinese cargo shipping line has announced its plans to operate regular boxships (containerized cargo ships) transits through the Northwest Passage, thus connecting China with East Coast USA-Canada and Europe. These plans became more viable after the September 2013's successful transit done by the bulk carrier Nordic Orion (73,500 DWT), as the cargo vessel was fully loaded and too large to transit through Panama Canal.
The potential benefits of the Passage are significant - around 4000 km (2500 mi) shorter cargo shipping routes between Europe and East Asia, faster and cheaper transportation of the Alaskan oil to ports on the East Coast USA, easier developing and shipping of the Canadian Arctic's mineral resources.
Where is the Northwest Passage (map)
According to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO, founded in 1921), the Northwestern Passages limits are as follow:
- Western limit - Beaufort Sea's eastern limit [through the Prince Patrick Island's southwest coast to Griffiths Point), the northwestern tip of Banks Island, through Banks' western coast to Cape Kellet's southwestern point) and to Cape Bathurst (mainland Canada)
- Northwestern limit - Lands End, Prince Patrick Island, C Columbia, Ellesmere Island
- Northeastern limit - Ellesmere Island's coast ( between C Columbia and C Sheridan) and the Baffin Bay's northern limit.
- Eastern limit - Ellesmere Island's eastern coast (between C Sheridan and Cape Norton Shaw) to Phillips Point (on Coburg Island) through Coburg Island to Marina Peninsula and to Cape Fitz Roy (on Devon Island) down its eastern coast to Cape Osborn and to Cape Liverpool (on Bylot Island), down the Bylot's eastern coast to Cape Graham Moore, across to Cape Macculloch, down the Baffin Island's eastern coast to East Bluff (Baffin's southeastern extremity) and the Hudson Strait's eastern limit.
- Southern limit - mainland Canada coast (Hudson Strait), the bay's northern limits, mainland Canada from Beach Point to Cape Bathurst.
The Northwest Passage map shows that marine vessels traveling west enter through Baffin Bay, then pass through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (by some of the above-listed routes), exit into Beaufort Sea, and through Chukchi Sea and Bering Sea enter the Pacific Ocean. Recent satellite images taken near the summer's end (early September) show large portions of the Northwest Passage being relatively free of ice.
There is a progressive (steady) decline in the ice thickness in the region. NASA studies have shown the decline's rate is several % per decade. Discharge rates of the Eurasian rivers draining into the Arctic Ocean are also increasing due to melting glaciers. These freshwaters are much warmer than the Arctic's.
Arctic Ocean waters dispute
Canada claims that some of the Northwest Passage waters (those in the Canadian Arctic) are internal waterways (waters), giving the country the right to control transits through these waters. Most maritime nations (including the USA and those in Europe) classify these waters an "international strait", where all vessels have the right of transit the passage. Canada would still have the right to enact regulation (including fishing and environmental), laws (including fiscal and smuggling) and safety shipping regulations, but not the right to close the Northwest Passage. When (eventually) the passage’s waters during summer become completely free of ice, they would allow Arctic transition of supertankers - too big to pass through Panama Canal and otherwise navigating around South America (through the Strait of Magellan).
- In 1985, the USCG icebreaker Polar Sea transited the passage from Greenland to Alaska. The event resulted in a diplomatic incident. In 1986, Canada issued a declaration reaffirming its rights to these waters. The USA refused to recognize the claim. In 1988, both governments signed "Arctic Cooperation" agreement resolving the issue without solving the questions about the passage's sovereignty. Under the law of the sea, marine vessels engaged in transit passage are not permitted to research. However, the 1988's Canada-USA agreement allows USCG ships engaged in research would require permission from Canada to pass through.
- In 2005 was reported that US nuclear submarines had traveled through the Canadian Arctic waters. Later, the US Navy released photos of USS Charlotte (Los Angeles-class submarine) at the North Pole.
- On April 9, 2006, Canada declared that its military will no longer refer to this Arctic Ocean region as "Northwest Passage", but as "Canadian Internal Waters".
- On July 9, 2007, Canada's Prime Minister announced the establishment of a deep-water port in the region. On the next day, two US Rear Admirals - Timothy McGee (US Navy) and Brian Salerno (USCG) - announced that the USA would be increasing its Arctic patrol ability.
Northwest Passage routes
The Northwest Passage route includes 3 sections:
- Eastern route - east of Baffin Island (between Baffin and Greenland) to Lancaster Sound (located at the island's northern end), west of Baffin Island (through Hudson Strait, located south of Baffin), north through Foxe Basin, west through Fury-Hecla Strait, north to Lancaster Sound (through Boothia Gulf and Prince Regent Inlet). However, this route is considered impractical as Fury-Hecla Strait is usually closed by pack ice.
- Northern route - from Lancaster Sound west through Parry Channel to Prince of Wales Strait (located on the Victoria Island's northwestern side), southwest through Prince of Wales Strait (located between the islands Victoria and Banks).
- Southern route - from Lancaster Sound west past Prince Regent Inlet (exiting west through Bellot Strait), past Somerset Island, south through Peel Sound (between the islands Somerset and Prince of Wales), either southwest through Victoria Strait or directly south (through the straits Rae and James Ross) then west through Simpson Strait (located south of King William Island) going into the Queen Maud Gulf, then west along mainland Canada and south of Victoria Island.
Northwest Passage cruise terminal
In this section, you will find information on all cruise ships on Northwest Passage itineraries through the years.
Northwest Passage cruises
In 2012, Hapag-Lloyd's MS Hanseatic (now RCGS Resolute) made full transit with 25-days itinerary leaving from Nome AK (on August 14) and ending in Reykjavik Iceland (on September 7). In 2012 were reported a total of 24 yachts that have fully-transited the Passage.
- The ship was carrying a total of 481 passengers (residents) and crew.
- During the 26-day voyage, MS The World travelled over 5500 mi (8900 km) following the route of Roald Amundsen (link to the Hurtigruten ship), who was the first sailor completing the voyage in 1906.
In 2013, two of the Ponant's superyachts - Le Soleal and Le Boreal - were the first France-flagged marine vessels crossing the Northwest Passage. The unique itinerary started on August 26, 2013, when they left Kangerlussuaq Greenland to arrive in Anadyr Russia on September 16. Among the ports of call along the route were Beechey Island and King William Island (Gjoa Haven).
- During these voyages, Ponant passengers enjoyed meeting the Inuit people and wildlife - seeing hundreds of beluga whales and narwhales, and around 60 polar bears. Charles Hedrich (French sportsman and adventurer) was also there as special guest - being the world's first man to solo cross the Northwest Passage (in September 2009) in a rowing boat.
- The Ponant ships were under the command of Captains Etienne Garcia (on Le Boréal) and Patrick Marchesseau (on Le Soléal).
- In 2015, Abercrombie & Kent chartered Le Boreal for a full Northwest Passage transit (Kangerlussuaq to Anadyr).
In 2014, Silversea's superyacht Silver Explorer did the company's first Northwest Passage crossing. The 23-days itinerary started in Kangerlussuaq (August 9) and ended in Nome AK (September 2), covering a distance of over 4000 mi (6480 km). In 2019 (Aug 10 - Sept 6) the ship offered 26-day crossing from Nome AK to Tromso (Norway) covering a distance of 5780 mi (9300 km).
|Date / Time||Port|
|10 Aug||Departing from Nome, Alaska|
|12 Aug||At Sea|
|13 Aug 10:00 - 16:00||Provideniya, Chukotka Russia|
|14 Aug 14:00 - 18:00||Uelen, Chukotka, Russia|
|15 Aug 15:00 - 20:00||Kolyuchin Island, Russia|
|16-17-18 Aug||Wrangel Island, Russia|
|19-20 Aug (overnight)||Chukotka Peninsula, Russia|
|21 Aug 05:00 - 12:00||Bear Islands, Arctic Russia|
|22-23-24-25 Aug||At Sea|
|26 Aug 07:00 - 14:00||Severnaya Zemlya, Russia|
|27 Aug||At Sea|
|28 Aug 06:00 - 13:00||Uyedineniya Island, Russia|
|29 Aug 07:00 - 12:00||Novaya Zemlya, Russia|
|30 Aug 14:00 - 21:00||Franz Josef Land, Russia|
|31 Aug||Champ Island, Russia|
|31 Aug||Hooker Island, Russia|
|01 Sep 05:00 - 11:00||Franz Josef Land, Russia|
|02 Sep - 03 Sep||At Sea|
|04 Sep 11:00 - 17:00||Murmansk, Russia|
|05 Sep 14:00 - 19:00||Gjesvaerstappan Island, Norway|
|06 Sep||Arriving in Tromso, Norway|
In 2019, Hurtigruten (with MS Roald Amundsen) completed the company's first Northwest Passage transit (August 20 through September 10) from Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) to Nome (Alaska). The 21-day voyage included 7645 km of sea navigation.
In August 2016, Crystal Cruises ship Crystal Serenity became the world's first larger-sized cruise vessel (LOA length 250 m / 820 ft) with Northwest Passage crossing itinerary. Previously (in April 2016), a UK icebreaker RRS Ernest Shackleton (research vessel with an ice-strengthened hull) was chartered by the cruise company to escort the top-luxury ship.
- Ernest Shackleton was equipped with two helicopters for emergency use, tools for oil pollution containment, high-tech communications equipment, survival rations and professional crew experienced in the Northwest Passage and using the vessel's safety equipment. The Crystal Serenity ship was upgraded with ice detection radar, ice navigation system and forward-looking sonar. Its bridge team received ice navigation training, and ice pilots boarded both Ernest Shackleton and Crystal Serenity for the Arctic Ocean crossing cruise. The Ernest Shackleton's crew also assisted with the line's "Unexpected Adventures" tours (like helicopter flightseeing, Zodiac wet landings, speed boat rides and kayaking).
- Crystal's "Northwest Passage Cruise" started in August 2016. The 32-days long one-way itinerary was from Seward Alaska to NYC New York (August 16 to September 16), with ports of call Kodiak Island Alaska (Aug 17), Dutch Harbor Unalaska (Aug 19), Nome Alaska (Aug 21), Victoria Island Nunavut Canada (Aug 27 and 29), Baffin Island Nunavut Canada (Sept 4), Ilulissat Greenland (Sept 7), Sisimiut Greenland (Sept 8), Nuuk Greenland (Sept 9), Bar Harbor Maine (Sept 13), Boston Massachusetts (Sept 14) and Newport Rhode Island (Sept 15). In 2017 the Serenity ship has scheduled a second Northwest Passage transit.
- The 2017 cruise itinerary (32-days Seward to New York City, August 15 through September 15) included the same ports of call - Kodiak Island (Aug 16), Dutch Harbor (Aug 18), Nome (Aug 20), Victoria Island (Cambridge Bay and Ulukhaktok, Aug 25 and 28), Baffin Island (Pond Inlet, Sept 3), Ilulissat (Sept 6), Sisimiut (Sept 7), Nuuk (Sept 8), Bar Harbor ME (Sept 12), Boston MA (Sept 13) and Newport RI USA (Sept 14). For the 2017 cruise, the company hired a comprehensive team of Arctic experts from "Arctic Kingdom" (Canada-based company) for regular onboard lectures on the region's geography, culture and wildlife, and also for leading all the expeditions ashore. Crystal's 2017 cruise prices started from USD 21,855 per person (double occupancy rates).
The top-luxury brand RSSC-Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced its first "Northwest Passage Cruise" scheduled for 2017 summer.
- However, due to bad weather forecast (too much sea ice on the route in July), the voyage was cancelled in the end of August 2016. Booked passengers were refunded and additionally received USD $1,000 onboard credit applicable to any other 2016 or 2017 RSSC cruises. Travel partners who had guests booked on the trip received USD 250 per booking.
- The 63-days long itinerary from Miami Florida to Montreal Quebec (June 17 to August 18, 2017) was to be operated by the Seven Seas Navigator ship.
- The list of "Arctic" ports of call included Seward AK (July 19), Homer Alaska (July 21), Kodiak Island (July 22), Dutch Harbor (July 24), Nome AK (July 26), Herschel Island Yukon Canada (July 29), Tuktoyaktuk NT Canada (July 30), Victoria Island (Aug 2), King William Island (Aug 3), Upernavik Greenland (Aug 5), Uummannaq Greenland (Aug 7), Nuuk Greenland (Aug 9), Paamiut Greenland (Aug 10), Qaqortoq Greenland (Aug 11), Corner Brook Newfoundland (Aug 14), Saguenay Quebec (Aug 16) and Quebec City (Aug 17).
- RSSC prices started from USD 35,000 per person (double occupancy rates).
In September 2016, MS Hanseatic (now RCGS Resolute) navigated the Northeast Passage covering 10264 km (6378 mi).
- The 25-days itinerary (Aug 17 - Sept 10) from Tromso Norway to Vancouver BC was through Arctic Russia's waters (northern Asia).
- The ship visited North Cape, Murmansk, Barents Sea, Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, Severnaya Zemlya, New Siberian Islands, Bear Islands, Wrangell Alaska, Bear Islands, Wrangell AK, Kolyuchin Island, Bear Islands, Kolyuchin Island, Lorino (Chukotka), Provideniya (Chukotka), Nome AK.
- The vessel was commanded by Captain Thilo Natke. The voyage was fully booked.
In mid-January 2018, Hurtigruten announced company's new 530-passenger ship ms Roald Amundsen will operate a 26-night "Northwest Passage Cruise" leaving from Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) to Nome AK. Roald Amundsen became the 3rd-largest passenger liner with a full Northwest Passage transition itinerary - after the 980-passenger Crystal Serenity and the 165-passenger MS The World. Next is shown Hurtigrute's 22-day voyage between Greenland and Canada-Alaska.
|Date / Time||Port|
|20 Aug||Departing from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland|
|21 Aug||At Sea|
|22 Aug||Ilulissat, Greenland|
|23 Aug||Sisimiut, Greenland|
|24 Aug||Davis Strait|
|25 Aug||Hudson Strait|
|26 Aug||Baffin Island, Nunavut Canada|
|27 Aug||Lancaster Sound, Nunavut Canada|
|27 Aug||Devon Island, Nunavut Canada|
|28 Aug||Beechey Island, Nunavut Canada|
|28 Aug||Prince Leopold Island , Nunavut Canada|
|29 Aug||Somerset Island, Fort Ross, Nunavut Canada|
|29 Aug||Bellot Strait|
|30 Aug||Prince of Wales Island, Nunavut Canada|
|31 Aug - 01 Sep||King William Island, Gjoa Haven, Nunavut Canada|
|02 Sep||Victoria Island, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut Canada|
|03 Sep||Amundsen Gulf, NT Canada|
|04 Sep||Ulukhaktok, NWT Canada|
|05 Sep||Smoking Hills, Cape Bathurst, NWT Canada|
|06-07 Sep||Beaufort Sea, Canada-USA|
|08 Sep||Barrow, Alaska|
|09-10 Sep||Bering Strait (Russia-USA)|
|11 Sep||Nome, Alaska|
|11 Sep||Flight to Vancouver, BC Canada|
Prices started from ~USD 9900 pp (double occupancy).
Port Northwest Passage cruise ship schedule shows timetable calendars of all arrival and departure dates by month. The port's schedule lists all ships (in links) with cruises going to or leaving from Northwest Passage, Canadian Arctic. To see the full itineraries (ports of call dates and arrival / departure times) and their lowest rates – just follow the corresponding ship-link.
|20 August, 2023|
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