Crystal Serenity cruises on amid environmental concerns

The luxury cruise liner Crystal Serenity arrived off the coast of Nome on Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Frost/KNOM)
The luxury cruise liner Crystal Serenity arrived off the coast of Nome on Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Frost/KNOM)

The Crystal Serenity cruise ship is making a 32-day voyage from Anchorage to New York City.

The ship is the largest vessel ever to travel the Northwest Passage with about 1,000 passengers aboard.

Meanwhile, the potential environmental impact of a journey of that scope has some worried.

Austin Ahmasuk, a marine advocate at the Kawerak regional non-profit corporation, is nervous about what happens when a floating city moves through a delicate region like the Arctic.

Ahmasuk refers to the Crystal Serenity as “a floating city.”

It certainly contains enough people, and produces enough waste.

“We have some very deep-felt and heartfelt concerns about what is happening in the Arctic,” he said.

Alaska Native communities rely on fish and marine mammals for subsistence.

Ahmasuk worries that cruise ships could damage the ecosystem and threaten that subsistence lifestyle.

What’s more, he does not think the cruise industry is listening.

“Honestly, I don’t know that our concerns are being fully heard,” he said. “I honestly cannot say that with a straight face.”

He’s not alone in his misgivings.

Marcie Keever, who directs the oceans and vessels program at an environmental group called Friends of the Earth, also is worried.

“When a ship like Crystal is going, because of its size, because of the length of time, there’s lots of reasons why a ship like that is a big concern,” Keever said.

In June, Friends of the Earth released their latest cruise ship report card, which grades cruise lines on their commitment to protecting the environment.

What grades did Crystal Cruises get?

Sewage treatment: F. Air pollution reduction: F. Transparency: F. It ranked 17 th out of 17 cruise lines.

Crystal Cruises has spoken out against the report card, and so has the Cruise Lines International Association.

Alaska branch president John Binkley said that people should look to the Coast Guard to regulate the industry, not to environmental groups.

“And similar to our political parties today, I believe that the Friends of the Earth are trying to divide people, really, with radical and unfounded claims,” Binkley said.

While the Crystal Serenity does not meet the standards set by Friends of the Earth, it does comply with all federal regulations.

The ship also has pledged to use cleaner fuel while it’s in Alaskan waters.

Even Keever admits that the Crystal Serenity is not at the heart of the problem.

“Our concern is not necessarily just the Serenity,” she said. “It’s the number and size of cruise ships and other ocean-going vessels that are going up over the top of the world.”

If the Crystal Serenity successfully completes its voyage, then other large ships likely will follow.

The Serenity already plans to return in 2017.

Keever points out that if those ships contribute to climate change in the Arctic, then they are making their own passage just a little bit easier — melted ice means a smoother trip.

“The only reason that this cruise is even possible is due, in small part, to the cruise industry,” Keever said.

The Crystal Serenity is expected to arrive Sunday in Pond Inlet.

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