- During World War II, when Henry Larsen took a Royal Canadian
Mounted Police ship, the St Roch, into the fabled Northwest Passage, his
boat was frozen in Arctic ice through two winters, only emerging at the
eastern end after 27 months.
- On Sunday, the St Roch II completed a voyage over the
same route in one month, including leisurely overnight stops at communities
visited by the namesake boat half a century ago.
- After leaving Tuktoyaktuk, near Canada's border with
Alaska, the boat traversed all of Canada's Arctic without encountering
- "Concern should be registered with the fact we didn't
see any ice," the skipper, Sergeant Ken Burton of the Mounties, said
over a maritime telephone as he took the police boat into open waters across
Baffin Bay from Greenland.
- Safely out of the passage, he said: "There were
some bergs, but nothing we saw to cause any anxiety. We saw some ribbons
of multi-year ice floes, all small and fragmented, and were able to steer
- The Canadians' ice-free passage is further evidence that
Arctic ice is melting in the northern summer more extensively than usual.
- In a trend that scientists attribute to changing winds
and rising temperatures, submarine sonar probes indicate the thickness
of polar ice is only 58 per cent of what it was in the 1950s.
- Satellite photographs show that the polar ice cap at
the time of maximum summer melt - about now - has been reduced by about
6 per cent since 1980.
- "We don't know enough about the Arctic to know if
this is global warming, climate change or maybe we were just plain lucky,"
Sergeant Burton said as he took his boat south, en route to Halifax and
- Along the way the crew of the St Roch and a support ship,
the Simon Fraser, found a chilling reminder of how harrowing the Arctic
can be: a skull and the graves of six men believed to have perished in
the late 1840s as part of the ill-fated Franklin expedition.
- In 1845 Sir John Franklin set out from Britain with 128
men and two ships trying to find the Northwest Passage. The ships were
last spotted frozen in the ice in 1847, but their fate has remained a mystery.
- Until two weeks ago only about 30 bodies had been recovered.
Examinations of those earlier bodies indicated that some men had died of
lead poisoning from canned food and that the starving survivors had resorted
to cannibalism before they, too, perished in the cold.
- Scientists and environmentalists are trying to figure
out if commercial ships will be able to cross the Arctic regularly in late
- "It is still a risky venture," Sergeant Burton
said, "but the day of the famed Northwest Passage, the short-cut to
the Orient, may be just around the corner."
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