The Current

Cruise ship set to sail Northwest Passage prompts safety, environmental concern

For centuries, explorers sought out the northwest passage at great personal peril. Starting this summer, you can sail through the Arctic seaway aboard an ultra-luxury cruise ship. But critics warn cruise ships in the Northwest Passage is a disaster waiting to happen.
The Crystal Serenity cruise ship will make its inaugural voyage through the Northwest Passage, Aug. 16, 2016. (Crystal Cruises)

This summer, Aug. 16, 2016 to be exact, the Crystal Serenity cruise ship will make its inaugural voyage through the Northwest Passage. About 1,000 passengers and more than 600 crew will be aboard the 253-metre-long cruise ship.

Prices range from $30,000 to $156,000 dollars per passenger. The month-long cruise is already sold out.

For 300 years the Northwest Passage was a holy grail for explorers. It wasn't until 1906 that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen successfully navigated his way through in a three-year-long journey. And in 2009, thanks to warming temperatures and a shrinking ice pack, the route was opened up enough for the possibility of shipping and large scale cruising. 

The Crystal Serenity will sail from Anchorage, Alaska, through the Northwest Passage, then down to New York City. And it will become the largest vessel — and the first of its kind — to make the fabled journey. 

Officials from the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard along with representatives from Crystal Cruises say they will run a series of drills and exercises in the Arctic to prepare for the worst. Because, if something goes wrong, it would be a massive rescue operation.

It's not just safety issues this voyage raises — questions about the impact a cruise this size will have on the small Arctic communities it visits along the way is also a concern. The 1,700 people on the cruise ship will essentially double the populations of Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet, Nunavut — two of the several communities on route. 

Even though tourism in Canada's Arctic is a growing industry, critics fear it's too hard to accommodate the challenges with the scale of the Crystal Serenity.

Guests in this segment:

  • Dermot Loughnane, CEO of tactical Marine Solutions and providing technical support to Crystal Cruise's Northwest Passage cruise. 
  • Vicki Aitaok, owner of Qaigguit Tours, coordinating with cruise ships coming to the Cambridge Bay since 2007.
  • Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law at UBC and author of Who owns the Arctic?

This segment was produced by The Current's Catherine Kalbfleisch.