Today, the largest cruise ship ever to try and navigate the NorthWest Passage is sailing from Seward, Alaska in an effort to reach New York via Canada and Greenland.
Much has been written about the environmental damage which will be caused by the Crystal Serenity over the nearly 1,000 mile journey. The Telegraph published an article titled The world's most dangerous cruise? 1,070-capacity ship takes on the Northwest Passage. Much has also been written about the environmental hazards which the Crystal cruise ship will face.
The Telegraph writes that the NorthWest Passage is "not a defined route but a labyrinth of possible waterways, just 10 per cent of which has been charted. Unknown rocks, shallows and currents will present constant challenges. So will sea ice."
The Telegraph also reminds us that "things have gone wrong in the past. In 2010 it took a Canadian icebreaker 40 hours to evacuate just 120 passengers from the 330 ft Clipper Adventurer when it ran aground on an underwater cliff."
As a history major, I tend to look back in time to determine the likelihood of things going wrong in the future. I wrote about the Clipper Adventurer hitting what was described as an "uncharted rock" back in 2010. One commentator remarked that "the problem is cruise ships want to go off the safe shipping lanes where there is more dramatic topography or stunning wildlife."
Of course, cruise ships have hit rocks and run aground even in the best of weather and sea conditions. Putting the Costa Concordia showboating disaster aside, in 2007 the Sea Diamond cruise ship struck a reef and eventually sank in good weather off the coast of Santorini. The Windstar Cruises' Star Pride hit underwater rocks near Isla de Coiba, Panama, and NCL's Norwegian Dawn hit a reef near the port shortly after leaving Bermuda. The last two incidents occurred in good weather last year.
The most infamous incident occurred back in 2007 when the Explorer (photo right) was sailing in the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean and hit an unidentified submerged object, reported to be ice, which caused a gash in the vessel's hull. The Explorer had intended to trace the route of 20th century explorer Ernest Shackleton through the Drake Passage. The Explorer sank and all 91 passengers, 9 guides and 54 crew were evacuated and drifted for 5 hours in lifeboats before they were rescued. The sinking fortunately happened in good weather, permitting a safe rescue.
In 2010, the 100 passenger cruise ship Clelia II averted disaster after it scrapped underwater rocks and began to take on water in the Antarctica Peninsula.
In 2013, I wrote about a series of cruise ships striking underwater rocks in the Fjords of Norway.
Just yesterday, I wrote about the recent sinking of an excursion vessel carrying 23 passengers from the small, luxury cruise ship, L’Austral (operated by Compagnie du Ponant), near Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland which apparently struck an underwater rock or iceberg. The incident received little media attention, notwithstanding the environmental damage and the risk posed to the cruise ship passengers who faced a certain death if they had not been saved.
The Telegraph says that the Crystal Serenity will be accompanied by the RRS Ernest Shackleton, an icebreaker, and two helicopters "to help scan for ice," so it appears that the cruise line has taken some extra precautions.
The Arctic cruise, reportedly at a cost of over $20,000 to $120,000 per passenger, plus the cost of the excursions, is a clear money-making deal for Crystal, assuming all goes well. Let's hope that the Ernest Shackleton guides the Serenity safely through the ice and avoids the fate of the Explorer, which is sitting somewhere on the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean.
Photo: Top - Crystal Cruises via the Telegraph; bottom - AP