Epic ship sets off for epic trip

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

IT is a voy­age ex­plor­ers only dreamed of not so long ago. But thanks to cli­mate change, a lux­ury cruise ship has un­der­taken a pi­o­neer­ing jour­ney that will see it sail through the once im­pass­able North­west Pas­sage dur­ing a month-long trip that is draw­ing much ex­cite­ment but also crit­i­cism from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

The Crys­tal Seren­ity, which set off from Se­ward, Alaska, on Au­gust 16 with nearly 1000 passengers, is sched­uled to dock in New York on Septem­ber 17.

The ship made its last Alaska port call on Sun­day, stop­ping in the re­mote town of Nome be­fore head­ing far­ther north, ac­com­pa­nied by the RRS Ernest Shack­le­ton,a Bri­tish sup­ply and ice­break­ing ves­sel.

The voy­age marks the first time a pas­sen­ger ship this size sails the sto­ried North­west Pas­sage where warmer tem­per­a­tures and melt­ing ice are open­ing the Arc­tic – one of the most pris­tine places on Earth – for busi­ness.

Passengers on board the US$350 mil­lion ves­sel paid be­tween $22,000 and $120,000 for the jour­ney, which took three years of plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion to avoid any mishaps, in­clud­ing a re­peat of the Ti­tanic.

Guests were also re­quired to pur­chase $50,000 in emer­gency evac­u­a­tion in­surance in or­der to cruise through the North­west Pas­sage – a once-un­nav­i­ga­ble short­cut be­tween the At­lantic and Pa­cific oceans that is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a pop­u­lar route for ship­ping.

The Crys­tal Seren­ity is ex­pected to reach the north­west ter­ri­to­ries to­mor­row and com­plete the Arc­tic leg of its jour­ney by Septem­ber 4 be­fore head­ing to Green­land and fi­nally New York.

“Ev­ery as­pect of this voy­age is lit­er­ally un­par­al­leled in the lux­ury cruise in­dus­try, and nearly the en­tire travel in­dus­try as well,” Crys­tal’s CEO and pres­i­dent, Edie Ro­driguez, said in a state­ment.

“It is a tremen­dous un­der­tak­ing to em­bark on such a his­toric jour­ney, but also an honor for us to be able to of­fer the world’s most dis­cern­ing trav­el­ers the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence a re­gion of the world that so few others have or ever will.”

He said guests on the 820-foot (250-me­tre), 13-deck ves­sel can en­joy a slew of ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing he­li­copter flights over glaciers as well as po­lar bear and other wildlife sight­ings.

Passengers also have at their dis­posal on board a fit­ness cen­tre, a spa, swim­ming pools, restau­rants and lux­ury shops.

But not every­one is hail­ing the high-pro­file voy­age, with crit­ics lash­ing out at Crys­tal Cruises and ac­cus­ing the com­pany of cap­i­tal­is­ing on the de­struc­tion of the planet.

An ar­ti­cle in the on­line cur­rent af­fairs mag­a­zine Slate of­fered a scathing re­view, de­scrib­ing the cruise as yet an­other ex­am­ple of a con­sump­tion-driven so­ci­ety that will stop at noth­ing.

“It is a his­toric voy­age, one that marks the open­ing of one of Earth’s last fron­tiers,” au­thor Will Ore­mus wrote.

“It is also an abom­i­na­tion – a mas­sive, diesel burn­ing, wast­e­dump­ing, ice-de­stroy­ing, golf-balls­mack­ing mid­dle fin­ger to what re­mains of the planet.”

Elena Agarkova, se­nior pro­gram of­fi­cer for the World Wildlife Fund, ac­knowl­edged that Crys­tal Cruises had taken mea­sures to off­set the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the Seren­ity’s voy­age, in­clud­ing not us­ing heavy fuel oil and dis­charg­ing waste wa­ter at least 12 nau­ti­cal miles from shore.

But she said there were still con­cerns about safety and pro­tect­ing wildlife as well as the re­gion’s di­verse in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

“This voy­age is sym­bolic of the rapid changes hap­pen­ing in the Arc­tic,” Agarkova told AFP.

“To­day, we do not have the right rules in place needed to re­duce risks to wildlife and peo­ple, nor the ca­pac­ity needed to re­spond to ac­ci­dents.”

She said that as cli­mate change ac­cel­er­ates and Arc­tic ship­ping and leisure travel grows, gov­ern­ments in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively must match that pace in man­ag­ing the re­gion.

“Cruise ships of the size of the Crys­tal Seren­ity are essen­tially huge cities,” she noted. “They are go­ing to have some 1700 passengers, in­clud­ing crew, on board and they are go­ing to be dis­charg­ing thou­sands of gal­lons of sewage and gray­wa­ter as they sail through the Arc­tic wa­ters.”

Agarkova said although the waste will be dumped away from shore, it will still be go­ing into the Arc­tic ecosys­tem on a daily ba­sis.

“And of course the more ships that we have, the more im­pact and the more waste will be in th­ese right now rel­a­tively pris­tine ar­eas,” she said.

“I find it ironic that one of the big­gest sell­ing points of th­ese voy­ages is to see Arc­tic wildlife and to see the last fron­tier.

“And the more peo­ple show up to see the last fron­tier, [the more] the last fron­tier it will be.” –

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