People, Travel

Luxury Arctic Cruise Causes Uproar Among Activists

Luxury Arctic Cruise Causes Uproar Among ActivistsLuxury Arctic Cruise Causes Uproar Among Activists

Concerns have been raised about the participation of a UK science vessel in an Arctic tourist voyage.

Funded by the UK government, the RRS Ernest Shackleton normally carries out support work for the British Antarctic Survey and is used as a research ship.

But this summer, the ice breaker has been chartered to accompany a luxury liner’s voyage in the Arctic.

Critics say that a vessel normally dedicated to science should not be enabling tourism in an area like the Arctic, acknowledged by many to be one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change.

Global warming has seen a rapid rise in the number of ships travelling through Arctic waters in recent years.

The Northwest Passage—a shortcut from Asia to Europe through the Canadian Arctic—first became fully clear of ice in the summer in 2007. Since then, only a handful of ships have traveled the route.

This summer the Crystal Serenity aims to become the biggest passenger ship yet to attempt to sail 1,500 km through the famous route, taking 1,700 passengers and crew from Alaska to New York.

Berths on the 14-deck luxury liner are not cheap, starting at around $20,000 per person and running up to $120,000 for a deluxe stateroom.

While the route is accessible to ships, it is not ice-free and the company behind the voyage has chartered the ice breaker, RRS Ernest Shackleton, from the British Antarctic Survey.

“There is a significant tension between the science and environmental mission of the Shackleton and its participation in an exercise in tourism that has an enormous per capita carbon footprint,” Prof. Michael Byers from the University of British Columbia told BBC News.

“This voyage is a significant contribution, at least on a per capita basis, to climate change by people who are going to see an ecosystem before it is destroyed by climate change. I find that irony quite terrible,” he said.

  “Well-Regulated” Tourism

In a statement, the British Antarctic Survey said it had chartered the Shackleton to Crystal Cruises, the company behind the trip, as the ship would not be deployed in the Antarctic at that time.

“Cruise ship tourism in both polar regions is well-regulated,” it said.

One of the features of this year’s voyage will be visits to small and remote communities in the Arctic during visits to port. Byers says this is one of the most unappealing aspects of the journey.

“They (local populations) have endemic tuberculosis, sky high rates of diabetes, with people who are living in poverty and desperation,” he said.

“The people who are coming off the cruise ships are not in the 1%, but in the 0.1% of the world’s financial elite; it is another example of just how extreme this particular voyage is.”