A cruise ship travelling through the Northwest Passage has agreed not to stop at Ulukhaktok after Covid-19 cases were reported on board.
The National Geographic Resolution, voyaging between Greenland and Alaska, is no longer calling at the NWT community on Monday. Sister ship National Geographic Endurance is still expected in Ulukhaktok on Tuesday.
Denise Okheena, Ulukhaktok’s economic development officer and corporate manager, said the ship had reported 14 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and was asked not to arrive in Ulukhaktok for the community’s safety.
“Everything went smoothly,” Okheena told Cabin Radio. “I’m glad that they were respectful and informed us beforehand without having us ask.”
National Geographic Resolution is less than a year old. The ship, designed for rough polar waters, carries up to 126 guests in 69 cabins.
Voyages through the Northwest Passage lasting 22 days cost at least $44,400 (US$34,450) according to the websites of operators National Geographic and Lindblad.
On its website, Lindblad states all passengers on its cruises take Covid-19 tests prior to boarding and must test negative to be allowed to travel.
Patty Disken-Cahill, a spokesperson for Lindblad, told Cabin Radio the Resolution was now heading westward and had no further planned stops in the NWT.
“National Geographic Endurance does not have any cases and plans to stop in Ulu tomorrow,” Disken-Cahill confirmed.
“We will also be picking up our Inuvialuit marine monitor for NG Endurance, and she will be on board for four days. We will be the first vessel to have a monitor on board and we are delighted that we are able to accommodate her.”
Endurance’s passengers are due to arrive in the community at 8:30am on Tuesday and tour Ulukhaktok for several hours, enjoying demonstrations of fish filleting, drumming, dancing and Arctic sports.
The visit also includes an art and craft sale at the community hall.
Cruise ships are a health concern for the NWT’s Arctic coastal communities. Ulukhaktok’s health centre is already operating at an emergency staffing level according to the territory’s health authority. The NWT has spent most of the Covid-19 pandemic trying to protect isolated communities on the grounds that advanced care is far harder to access than in larger centres.
With travel restrictions now lifted, communities are taking that protection into their own hands.
However, the same ships are also a significant economic driver as tourism returns to the North.
Aside from the money spent by tourists visiting local stores and artisans, cruise companies also help to employ residents in a range of roles designed to welcome their guests.
A list of Ulukhaktok residents hired to work with the Resolution and Endurance this week, posted to a community Facebook group, names nearly 30 people in roles ranging from tour guide and fish filleting demonstrator to security and bear monitoring.