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Arctic Marine Tourism: A New Challenge

(from AMSA Report 2009)


As passenger and cruise vessel traffic continues to increase in the Arctic, infrastructure and passenger safety needs will become of increasing concern. The large number of tourists already cruising Arctic waters now exceeds the emergency response capabilities of local communities (See page 172). The Arctic’s cold air and water temperatures require the quick and efficient rescue of capsized vessels and tourists aboard lifeboats and rafts. Even limited exposure to cold weather and seas quickly reduces human endurance and chances of survival. These hazardous environmental conditions prevail in a region that has very scarce emergency response resources and where long distances result in lengthy response times. Emergency protocols become increasingly difficult as both small and large cruise ships seek remote wilderness settings and wildlife habitats. The primary polar attractions sought by tourists are rarely close to emergency response services. This combination of hostile environmental conditions and scarce emergency infrastructure is a serious threat to human life.

When performing search and rescue in the polar regions, there is an urgent need to respond quickly, as the prevention of injury and loss of life depends on timely response, prompt evacuation and the application of medical and other emergency response services. Effective responses can only be accomplished by the design and implementation of appropriate search and rescue management policies and programs, supported by appropriate physical infrastructure and well-trained personnel.

Ship evacuation produces a host of emergency response problems in the polar world. Passengers and crew must be sheltered from inclement weather, properly clothed, nourished and hydrated. The provision of these basic necessities in the polar environment, either sea or land, is formidable. The ability to successfully communicate a distress signal of any sort in the polar world can further exacerbate these threatening circumstances. Communications in the Arctic may be a challenge. However, ships equipped with adequate communication equipment (for example, digital selective calling-high frequency, or DSC-HF, and Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPRIB) are able to transmit distress messages.

It is not likely that communities located in the remote, high Arctic have sufficient medical resources to respond to illnesses involving hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of cruise ship passengers and crew. And given their histories, the indigenous people living in rural Arctic communities are understandably fearful of exposure to infectious diseases.

A dangerous consequence of the growing popularity and number of cruise ships operating in and transiting through polar waters is the significant increase of marine incidents. Serious marine incidents include sinkings, groundings, pollution and other environmental violations, disabling by collision, fire and loss of propulsion. Rapid increase in the number of cruise ship voyages has led to a similar increase in the number of incidents.

Given the large number of cruise ships and other recreational boaters currently operating throughout the polar seas and the probable growth of those markets, marine operators, Arctic governments and local communities are faced with significant management challenges.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©

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