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How likely is it that a cruise ship would sink in Alaska's Arctic?

Craig Medred

The wreck of the cruise ship Costa Cordia off Italy, with the death of as many at 20 people, appears to have pushed the editors of "Popular Mechanics'' magazine over the edge.

They were Wednesday pondering "What if a Cruise Ship Wrecked in Alaska?" And their answers hinted at big-time DISASTER "in remote, harsh, Arctic waters, where thousands of vacationers travel on cruise ships each year.''

Never mind that the travelers to the Arctic are actually few, and that the cruise-ship business in Alaska is focused on the well-traveled (and in many places sheltered) waters of the Panhandle and the south Gulf of Alaska coast. Or that the U.S. Coast Guard has managed to safely rescue cruise-ship passengers from something far worse than a wreck in the north.

The luxury liner Prinsendam caught fire and then sank off Southeast Alaska in 1980. No one died. Still, there are legitimate dangers.

According to the magazine, the Coast Guard says "the worst-case scenario could be a shipwreck off the northern or western coast of Alaska, where the water is cold, help is hundreds of miles away, and just making it to shore would be no guarantee of survival."

Alaskans know that. There isn't much infrastructure in the Alaska Arctic: No deepwater port, no major cities, no major refueling stations. There is really not much of anything, which is why so few cruise ships visit. And, of course, there are the polar bears, which Popular Mechanics fails to mention. The bears are why -- wink, wink -- even if you make "it to shore (there) would be no guarantee of survival.'' The bears are likely to eat you.

That's why they call the Arctic tours "adventure tourism.''