The World gets green light to transit Northwest Passage
Canadian Coast Guard ready to supply assistance if needed
More than 100 years after Norway’s Roald Amundsen successfully sailed through the Northwest Passage on a small sloop with a crew of six, history may be made again along that route in 2012.
If successful in its west-to-east transit of the passage, a 196.5-metre ship called The World, which bills itself as “the largest privately owned residential yacht on earth,” will become the largest passenger vessel to complete a journey that was once perilous and nearly impossible.
After two days anchored outside Cambridge Bay, where local residents gave its 508 passengers and crew a taste of Nunavut culture, The World is now heading towards Victoria Strait and Larsen Sound.
That’s with the blessing of Transport Canada.
Spokesperson Glyniss Hutchings said Aug. 31, that Transport Canada “has reviewed the assessment of ice conditions provided by the ship’s captain and we have verified that the ship’s plans are compliant with applicable regulations to transit the Northwest Passage.”
The World submitted a planned route that will not require ice breaker assistance, Transport Canada said.
But if a request for icebreaker assistance were to be received along the way, the Canadian Coast Guard “would task one of its ships to escort The World through the ice,” said Carol Launderville, a communications advisor for the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard’s Wilfrid Laurier and the Terry Fox, two of their fleet icebreakers, are now in the vicinity of the Northwest Passage.
Although the ice in the Northwest Passage is at its lowest in 33 years, since the satellite record started, and possibly even longer, the icebreakers close proximity could be helpful if The World runs into any problems, similar to the Clipper Adventurer which slammed into shoals near Kugluktuk in 2010, requiring the emergency rescue of passengers and crew.
Like the Clipper Adventurer, the average age of the passengers on board The World is about 65.
But there are more than 200 of them in addition to 260 crew members — making for nearly five times as many people on board The World than on the Clipper Adventurer who would need evacuation in the case of an emergency.
If there’s another first to be made by The World in 2012, it’s the level of luxury of this vessel transiting the Northwest Passge.
In addition to its 165 private residences, the ship facilities also include a spa, four restaurants, where you can chose between French cuisine, seafood, Mediterranean dishes and Asian specialties, as well as six cocktail lounges and bars, a tennis court and a driving range.
The World is the first ship of its size burning marine diesel rather than heavy bunker fuel, making for a much more environmentally-friendly ship, and it’s also first to feature the unique Scanship wastewater cleaning system in which wastes are filtered by means of a flotation system.
But not everyone thinks Canada’s Arctic is ready for The World even if it is tops.
“Voyages by smaller, ice-strengthened ‘expedition’ cruise ships have already revealed the dangers, including small chunks of icebergs called ‘growlers’ that are exceptionally hard and float low in the water, making them difficult to spot,” said Michael Byers, a Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia and author of Who Owns the Arctic?, in an Aug. 15 commentary in the Globe and Mail.
Byers also said striking bottom is made much more likely by the absence of good navigation charts in the Arctic, quoting John Falkingham, formerly of the Canadian Ice Service, who told Nunatsiaq News in 2010 that inadequate charts are the “single biggest issue in the Arctic.”
Falkingham said only one-tenth of Canada’s Arctic waters are charted to modern standards.
A third danger, cited by Byers, is “unpredictable and extreme Arctic weather.”
“Last summer, I sailed the Northwest Passage twice, and both times encountered gale-force winds and seven-metre swells,” he said.
With Canada’s search-and-rescue capabilities in need of an emergency upgrade, Byers said we could find ourselves standing helplessly by – “as hundreds or even thousands of foreign tourists die in what we proudly insist is our Arctic.”