The perilous route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that once foiled many an explorer is set to become a tourist destination.
Large-scale luxury cruises will travel the Northwest Passage for the first time this summer.
The Crystal Serenity, taking more than 900 passengers at a cost of up to £78,000 each, is the largest ship to attempt to make the Arctic journey. Smaller vessels have already made the trip.
The passengers will travel from the Gulf of Alaska through the Beaufort Sea to Greenland and on to New York.
It took more than 400 years to find a route across the top of north America, the passage becoming known as the “Arctic grail” as numerous explorers failed to traverse the frozen waters.
The voyage ended in disaster and tragedy for many who sought to tackle the inhospitable region, like Sir John Franklin who perished along with his crew in 1847.
Now climate change has forced a decline in the thickness and extent of the sea ice, making the route clearer.
Tim Soper, founder of Expedition Voyage Consultants, which is overseeing the trip, told the Sunday Times: “We are in a period of change in the Arctic. The ice is reducing in extent and thickness so it is easier to navigate, and the window during which it can be transited is lengthening.”
Environmental campaigners fear that opening up the route could risk oil spills and pollution to the Arctic ecosystem.
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The melting of the Arctic sea ice should be a profound warning for humankind, not an invitation to oil companies and now tour ships to move in.”