The increasing trend of maritime traffic in the rapidly warming Arctic poses risks of accidents and pollution in remote areas. Cruise ship traffic in Greenland alone has increased by 50% in the last year, with about 600 ships visiting, according to Brian Jensen of the Danish military’s Joint Arctic Command. This growth in shipping is occurring while sea ice is decreasing due to global warming, leading to the opening of previously closed sea routes in the region. However, the use of fossil fuels to power these ships contradicts efforts to combat climate change. Additionally, the carbon footprint of cruise ships per passenger may be larger than that of passenger aircraft.
The rise in shipping traffic not only threatens the environment but also poses challenges for search and rescue operations. Remote and poorly mapped areas in the Arctic, known for harsh and unpredictable weather conditions, make it difficult to respond to accidents or emergencies. In the past decade, shipping traffic has doubled on a pan-Arctic scale, while accidents in the region have increased by 42% between 2005 and 2017. Countries like Iceland and Greenland are particularly concerned about the increasing presence of large conventional cruise ships that can carry thousands of passengers and require international cooperation for rescue missions.
Efforts to protect the Arctic are underway, with certain Arctic governments implementing bans on oil and gas exploration. However, the need for strict regulations and clear legal requirements for cruise ships is being emphasized. The challenges faced in the Arctic, such as inadequate technology and capacity to respond to emergencies, highlight the potential for disaster in one of the most remote places on Earth. The consequences of increased shipping traffic include collateral damage to marine life and indigenous communities, as well as light and noise pollution.