Crystal Cruises, an international passenger cruise operator, has completed the world's first large vessel cruise in Arctic waters along the route from Alaska to New York, along the so-called Northwest Passage. EastRussia had a look at the experience of its neighbors
1,700 brave souls
The name of the largest liner to sail along the Northwest Passage is the Crystal Serenity. It had taken the company three years to prepare the ambitious cruise. The liner completed the cruise along the following route. After arriving in Alaska (the Port of Nome), the vessel skirted Alaska, passed through the Bering Strait and then along the Northwest Passage and, passing by the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, took to the Atlantic Ocean. After a brief stop near the shores of Greenland, the vessel completed her cruise in New York. The trip lasted from August 21 to September 16, 2016. 1,700 people were passengers on the cruise.
During the voyage, the liner regularly stopped at picturesque coastal towns and villages, and almost everywhere the passengers were offered an opportunity to disembark. However, as witnessed by numerous photographs, the landing was usually far from comfortable: while the liner remained off shore, the passengers were taken to shore in pinnaces and rubber boats.
The program was packed to the brim with activities. The company's press release indicates that all unpleasant moments that had taken place during the liner's voyage (dragging the boats to the shore, long foot marches over iced-over surface, the harsh and unfriendly climate of the Arctic Ocean) were smoothed over by detailed stories of the liner's tour guides. By the way, representatives of local native peoples, in particular the Inuits, were among the liner's guides. The passengers were also entertained during the trip by enjoying real-time views of wild nature and various peculiar Arctic phenomena. The convenience involved the work of high-performance fiber optics that ensured the online broadcasting of whatever was going on around to media panels installed in the front portion of the twelfth deck.
There were surprises as well. These included spontaneous contacts with wild nature, including particularly close ones, with polar bears and whales from a motorboat. Among them was also a night trip of a group of the liner's passengers along Greenland's icy coast. They negotiated deep clefts in frozen glaciers by foot and spent the night under the starry sky on the frost-bound ground.
Where the financial side of the cruise is concerned, a ticket on the liner Crystal Serenity cost its passengers USD 30,000–120,000. Also, the cost of one day's voyage on the liner amounted to USD 768, this, according to the analytics company Cruise Market Watch, is USD 600 more than the average cost of a one day sea cruise anywhere in the world. Also, apart from the ticket, the liner's passengers also had to purchase special insurance with a coverage of USD 50,000, in the event of a forced evacuation.
Despite the material starting expenses, many of the passengers continued spending money along the route to buy souvenirs, clothing, and locally-produced works of art. For example, in just one village, Cambridge Bay, passengers of the vessel made purchases from the local population amounting to about USD 110,000. By the way, the population of this village barely includes 1,500 people.
According to the General Manager of Crystal Cruises, Edie Rodriguez, the completed cruise was a superb journey. Mr. Rodriguez remarked that the voyage had been arranged by the company essentially to expose the beauty of this part of the Arctic Region to the world.
Let us remind everyone that the Northwest passage was discovered by the Norwegian traveler, Roald Amundsen, in 1903–1906. The Norwegian sailed it on a small wooden yacht. Such a route (that can be called the North American counterpart of the Russian Northern Sea Route) until comparatively recently had been impassable for large vessels. The ice conditions in this part of the Arctic Ocean are traditionally worse than in the Russian portion, and the route is incommensurately more complicated; therefore, essentially, until 2007, this route had not been used for either freight shipping or passenger travel. By the by, during the entire history of maritime navigation through the Northwest Passage, about 240 transits have been performed, most of them after 2007. However, these days, due to global warming and the melting of Arctic ice, this route is becoming more clear from ice every year.
It is worth mentioning that, as far as the journey is concerned, the principal problem of the liner was its sheer size – only 10% of the sea route of the Northwest Passage has been marked out, so the rocks, currents, sandbanks and ice could become serious challenges along the liner's way. The same thing happened to other vessels before. For example, in 2010, the liner Clipper Adventurer went aground due to such problems.
Environmentalists sound the Alarm
Despite its grandeur and interesting program, along with the jubilation of lovers of cruise tourism, the voyage of Crystal Serenity has given raise to disapprobation. For example, this happened in the largest Canadian territory, Nunavut. Its administration was worried about the potential negative impact of the liner on the state of the environment.
The sponsors were also criticized by the World Wildlife Fund, also for the environmental hazards brought about by both such a trip and the landing of a large number of tourists on the unprepared shore. Smaller environmental organizations also took grievance, as they criticized the emissions of fuel waste, the noise, the disturbance of local animals, the influence on the traditional lifestyle of local communities. It is also worth mentioning that opponents to the cruise did not confine themselves to criticism: in Nunavut, the development of special rules for marine cruise liners commenced in order to minimize the impact of such vessels on the territory.
The experts interviewed by EastRussia considered such behavior of environmentalists as a desire to promote themselves rather than a true threat, because everything indicates that the voyage of the Crystal Serenity had been thoroughly designed and prepared.
"For example, where the environmental impact of the liner Crystal Serenity on the ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean is concerned, at the reduction of which rules will be aimed that are currently being developed in Canada, military submarines at the same time have at least as great an influence on it," argues the General Director of the International Association of Tourism, Mr. Pavel Khabarov in an interview with EastRussia. "But no rules are being developed for them! In any occasion, only the minimal influence of the liner on the ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean may occur, for the simple reason that on the enormous stretches of water traversed by the liner, anything that gets into the water would be very quickly spread about and assimilated. However, even if there is a true reason to worry, the company owning the vessel would be forced to take steps to reduce its environmental impact on the ocean's ecosystem, which it should be able to do without undue trouble. Therefore, the expenses that one way or another mean ensuring the environmental safety of the liner's voyage would be automatically included in the price offered to the clients who, as it is well known, are more than well-off."
"The ecosystem of the territories of the Far North is extremely vulnerable," a reporter of EastRussia was informed by a professor of the Chair of Economic and Social Geography of Russia of the Geography Department of Lomonosov Moscow State University Viktoria Bityukova. "However, the negative impact of a tourist liner is limited to waste waters and exhaust gases. And if the economic benefits brought by the liner are compared to its environmental impact on the ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean, there can be no comparison." They are also supplemented by the social effects created by the liner. They include the development of coastal territories as well as the promotion of a careful attitude towards nature.