More and more floating pleasure palaces are plying the increasingly ice-choked and unstable waters near the poles. What could possibly go wrong?”>
This year, the new 820-foot-long, 13-deck cruise ship Crystal Serenity will be the first large-scale tourist ship to navigate through the Northwest Passage. And while amenities such as a casino, a movie theater, six restaurants, and a driving range may be what most potential tourists consider first, the safety precautions the cruise line is taking should be most important.
As the ships parent company, Crystal Cruises, notes, Two ice searchlights, a high-resolution radar and other equipment will be installed to allow the vessel to scan the waters ahead looking for underwater obstructions or uncharted rocks. The cruise liner will also carry a helicopter for ice condition reconnaissance, and will be accompanied by an escort ship with damage control equipment.
These precautions constitute the minimum security protocols for the safe travel of large ships in unstable, ice-choked waters. And the very fact that such extreme measures are necessary tells us that large cruise ships shouldnt be in polar waters at all.
Yet, according to a 2009 NOAA STAR report, tourism is the single largest human presence in the Arctic, with the majority of travelers visiting by ship.
Certain forms of Arctic adventure tourism have existed since the early 1800s, from mountaineers to adventure seekers, but today the industry has expandedin regions including Alaska, Canada, Norway, and Icelandto include nature lovers and leisure travelers, in part because of greater access due to melting ice.