Cruise Ship Sails Through Melting Northwest Passage

Environmentalists say it's part of the problem
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 9, 2016 8:05 AM CDT
Cruise Ship Sails Through Melting Northwest Passage
This Aug. 21 photo shows people preparing to take a polar plunge in the Bering Sea in front of the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity.   (Mark Thiessen)

The Crystal Serenity's current journey through the Arctic is historic. At nearly three football fields long and 13 stories tall, the cruise ship is the largest ever to traverse the Northwest Passage, where its 900 or so well-heeled guests have glimpsed polar bears, kayaked along Canada's north shore, landed on pristine beaches, and hiked where few have stepped, the AP reports. The monthlong cruise began in Alaska on Aug. 16 and some remote villages along the way are seeing dollar signs, while environmentalists are seeing doom. The terrible irony with the Crystal Serenity's voyage is that it's taking place only because of climate change and the melting Arctic, says Michael Byers, a professor in the political science department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The Northwest Passage, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, has long been choked off by ice. But melting brought on by climate change is allowing passengers to cruise up the Bering Strait and then head east toward Greenland over the Arctic Ocean before docking next week in New York City. "And yet, by actually taking advantage of climate change, it's contributing to the problem because the ship has a very large carbon footprint of its own," Byers says. Tickets cost more than $20,000 per person, with a penthouse starting at about six times that. "It's very expensive to operate up here," says the ship's captain, Birger Vorland, though all the tickets were snapped up in 48 hours. (Here's what it's like to join a cruise full of conspiracy theorists.)

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