North

As first large cruise ship sails through Northwest Passage, coast guard fears for increasing traffic

As a large cruise ship gets ready to sail the Northwest Passage this summer, the commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard expects more to follow and with it more risk in changing Arctic waters.

Changing ice conditions opening 'a whole new level of risk of traffic in the Arctic'

Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas says new traffic in the Arctic comes with risk. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

As a large cruise ship gets ready to sail the Northwest Passage this summer, the commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard expects more to follow and with it more risk in changing Arctic waters.

The Crystal Serenity will set sail from Alaska Aug. 16 to become the first large cruise ship to traverse the Northwest Passage.

The Crystal Serenity is planning to carry 1,000 passengers on board the first 'luxury' cruise to sail from Alaska to Greenland through the Northwest Passage in August of 2016. (Courtesy Crystal Cruises)

"Nothing is without risks but they've taken a lot of steps to mitigate the risk," said Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas.

"What concerns us are the companies that don't take as much care, don't do as much planning, don't have all the safety measures in place. That is our concern."

Changing ice conditions in the Arctic are opening up new types of travel, and with it, more thrill seekers.

"It's changing, it's not as consistent as it used to be," Thomas said during a visit to the Coast Guard's Marine Communication and Traffic Service Centre in Iqaluit.

"And so that introduces a whole new level of risk of traffic in the Arctic, people taking risks in the Arctic, and increases the need for the presence of our vessels and our team here.

(Ruby Buiza/CBC)

"There's a lot of talk about the lack of sea ice. Well, the sea ice, as anybody who lives up here knows, is variable from year to year. In fact, inherently more dangerous. Some places it's thick, some places it's not."

Last October, eight Arctic nations came together to form the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, a group focusing on working together on environmental response and search and rescues. Similar forums exist for the North Pacific and North Atlantic, looking to promote co-operation between countries.

"We work together to keep Arctic waters safe," Thomas said.

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