In another sign that the Arctic is warming, a coordinated rescue was in the works Thursday for an ill German passenger aboard a cruise ship not far from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay.
It's an unlikely place to find a cruise ship, but this new Arctic frontier is becoming busier with commercial traffic. The report of the ill passenger off the northern Alaska coast came the same day as a new study claims the Arctic is now at its warmest in 2000 years.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center in Juneau reported that Alaska Clean Seas and oil company BP were helping arrange for the transfer of a 27-year-old German woman suffering possibly from appendicitis aboard the cruise ship Bremen about 30 miles west of Prudhoe Bay.
The Breman has been at sea since it left Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, in mid-August, according to the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' website. The ship was due to arrive to Barrow on Friday, then head south to Point Hope on Saturday, and end up in Nome on Monday morning.
Ships like the Breman have been sailing across the Northwest Passage more frequently in recent years as new, relatively ice-free shipping lanes open up. The Coast Guard, Homeland Security and other federal agencies have raised safety and security concerns about the increasing traffic of commercial ships sailing past the top of Alaska, where the border is wide open and there is little oversight. In previous years, ships carrying German passengers have docked off the shores of Barrow and freely brought the tourists ashore in boats for short visits.
As of late Thursday, the Breman was altering its voyage and headed toward Prudhoe Bay -- home to the nation's biggest oil fields -- where a vessel owned by Alaska Clean Seas with two BP medical personnel was going to meet it, according to the Coast Guard.
"The remote regions of Alaska always offer difficult challenges and the Arctic Ocean is no different," said Capt. Michael D. Inman, chief of response for the Coast Guard's 17th District, in a press release.