Tags: Arctic | ice | shippers | route

Vanishing Arctic Ice Spells Opportunity for Global Shippers

Tuesday, 02 Oct 2012 07:48 AM

By John Morgan

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The melting Arctic ice cap is clearing a historic new pathway for the global shipping trade, a benefit being reaped in the face of environmental alarm from scientists.

China became the latest country to navigate the Northern Sea Route last month when its vessel Snow Dragon arrived in Iceland after a voyage that began in the Pacific and traversed the Arctic, according to the France 24 news service.

The Northern Sea Route allows ships to cut down on travel time from Asia to Europe by navigating the waters between Russia and the North Pole. That means significant savings and profits for shippers.

Editor's Note: The ‘Unthinkable’ Could Happen — Wall Street Journal. Prepare for Meltdown

The number of cargo ships taking the Northern Sea Route jumped from only four in 2010 to 34 last year, according to Rosatomflot, a Russian state-run corporation that guides ships through the Arctic with nuclear-powered icebreakers, the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reports. Much more cargo is expected to be shipped this year because there is little ice, thus allowing large vessels to navigate the Arctic waters.

“If a cargo ship with a maximum load capacity of 40,000 tons can pass through the Northern Sea Route, that will shorten the journey by 22 days and cost $839,000 less than going through the Suez Canal,” said Felix Tschudi, CEO of Norway-based Tschudi Shipping.

There might be other profitable side effects to the melting Arctic as well. Asahi Shimbun predicted that if the ice cap keeps melting, international gas exploration companies would rush to exploit resources around the Arctic.

It could be a long time before the Northern See Route rivals the Suez Canal as the primary seagoing Asia-Europe connection, however. Ships made nearly 18,000 trips through the Suez Canal in 2011.

“There’s certainly a new channel opening up. But it will be a few decades yet before we get to the point [when they’re busy commercial shipping routes],” Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a global warming scientist at the Climate and Environmental Sciences Laboratory, told France 24.

In the meantime, infrastructure such as more port facilities along the route would need to be developed, presuming the Arctic ice does not return. And ongoing environmental objections would also need to be overcome. Some environmentalists believe pollution from ships could actually accelerate the melting ice cap.

Editor's Note: The ‘Unthinkable’ Could Happen — Wall Street Journal. Prepare for Meltdown

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