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First Cruise Ship to the Northwest Passage Leaves in August

Jul 12, 2016 05:37 AM EDT

Warming Arctic waters have cleared the way for the Crystal Serenity to be the first luxury cruise ship to traverse the once-forbidding Northwest Passage. Setting sail from Anchorage on August 16, the vessel will take its 1,000 passengers through the waters of the Canadian Arctic, continue to Greenland, and end its voyage in New York City.

American company Crystal Cruises is expecting its ship to complete the journey from Alaska to New York in 32 days, reports Passenger Ship Technology. To ensure the safety of passengers, Crystal Cruises has equipped the Serenity with navigation systems designed for travel in icy waters, including Rutter ice radar technology.

The Crystal Serenity will be accompanied on its voyage by the British Antarctic Survey research vesse Ernest Shackleton, an ICE 05-class icebreaker. It will be around to offer operational support to the luxury ship, sending out helicopters for reconnaisance and providing info to support navigation. And it can provide ice breaking services, of course.

The precautions are necessary because while Arctic ice has shrunk enough to clear a way through the Northwest Passage, the waters are not close to being ice-free. Indeed, many ships still encounter ice sheets too thick to get through. The ice builds up in winter and may persist well into the summer months, although the thickness does decline.

Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas aired her concern to CBC News. "There's a lot of talk about the lack of sea ice. Well, the sea ice, as anybody who lives up here knows, is variable from year to year. In fact, inherently more dangerous," she said.

The thinning of ice in the Northwest Passage has not yet turned it into a significant commercial sea route, with most of the traffic coming from icebreakers, small vessels and adventurers, according to the Washington Post. Until the upcoming cruise, tourism has mainly been limited to trips on research vessels and other not-so-luxurious options.

Those hoping to book a ticket on a future cruise can expect to pay big. The Crystal Serenity tickets cost about $22,000 a head, reports the Wall Street Journal. Even at that price, the cruise sold out in three weeks.

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