Melting ice could transform Alaska economy
(10-18) 04:00 PDT Nome, --
Alaska - Most days in Nome, you're not likely to run into anybody you
didn't see at the Breakers Bar on Friday night. More than 500 roadless
miles from Anchorage, rugged tundra and frigid Bering Sea waters have a
way of discouraging visitors.
So it was a big deal when the World - a 644-foot-long residential cruise
ship with condos costing several million dollars apiece - dropped anchor
during the summer for a two-day look-see.
"We never had a ship anywhere near this size before," Chamber of Commerce
director Mitch Erickson said. "My guess is they've probably been
everywhere else in the world, and now they're going to the places most
people haven't seen yet."
That's about to change.
The record shrinking of the polar ice cap is turning the forbidding waters
at the top of the world into important new shipping routes.
Four other cruise ships also docked in Nome recently. The U.S. Coast Guard
deployed its first small Arctic patrol vessels last year. Fleets of
scientific research vessels steamed north all summer, while ships
surveying the vast oil and gas deposits under the Arctic seabed have
talked of using Nome as a base.
In fact, this town of 9,300 on the edge of the Bering Strait sees itself
as the gateway to a newly accessible maritime frontier. Nome's ship
traffic is eight times what it was in 1990, and the town recently spent
close to $90 million renovating its port to accommodate bigger ships.