Tourist swarm puts the heat on Arctic
A SURGE in Arctic tourism is bringing bigger cruise ships to the isolated, ice-bound region, prompting calls for a clampdown to prevent Titanic-style accidents and pollution of fragile eco-systems.
Arctic nations should consider limiting the size of vessels and ban the use of heavy fuel oil in the region, industry players say. This comes after the first luxury cruise ship sailed safely through Canada's Northwest Passage this summer.
The route, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Arctic, was once clogged with icebergs but is now ice-free in summer due to global warming.
With a minimum ticket price of US$19,755 (S$27,237), the 1,700 passengers and crew on board the Crystal Serenity left Anchorage in Alaska on Aug 15 and docked in New York on Sept 16.
The ship's operator, Crystal Cruises, says on its website it will repeat the voyage next year.
Shipping executives express worry that such cruises could become a trend in an area where there is no port between Anchorage and Nuuk in Greenland.
"The Northwest Passage is thousands and thousands of nautical miles with absolutely nothing... There is a need to discuss possible regulation," said Tero Vauraste, chief executive of Arctia, a Finnish shipping firm specialising in icebreakers.
If a ship got into trouble in the Northwest Passage, there would be little authorities could do given the lack of infrastructure, he added.
Another concern is environmental, as cruise ships usually use heavy oil, a type of fuel that takes longer to break down in the event of a spill.
Small arctic communities could also be affected by mega cruise ships.
Svalbard - an archipelago between Europe's northernmost point and the North Pole - is experiencing a tourism boom, with the number of overnight stays by visitors rising 14 per cent in July year on year to 18,000.
"I stay home when the cruise ship tourists come. Too many people at the same time," said Fredric Froeberg, 37, a Swedish guide who runs excursions on snow scooters and boats from Longyearbyen, Svalbard's main settlement, with around 2,160 inhabitants.
"This place should not become too big. Otherwise, it will become overexploited."