Maersk Uses Arctic Ocean Northern Sea Passage for Commercial Shipping for First Time

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The Venka Maersk loading in Vladivostok

The Venka Maersk loading in Vladivostok

The Danish shipping line Maersk has for the first time successfully navigated the Northern Sea Route of the Arctic Ocean via container ship, a route made possible by melting sea ice caused by global warming.

The Maersk Line vessel Venta Maersk, is expected to reach its final destination of St Petersburg next week. The new ice-class 42,000 ton vessel, carrying Russian fish and South Korea electronics, left Vladisovostok in Russia’s far east, on the 23rd August.

Accompanied by a Russian nuclear icebreaker, the Venta followed the Northern Sea Route through the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, before travelling along Russia’s north coast and into the Norwegian Sea. The route has seen growing traffic during summer months already, with cargos of oil and gas regularly making the journey. LNG gas has already been shipped from the Arctic to India. Arctic sea ice reached a new low in January this year, and an “extreme event” was declared in March as the Bering Sea’s ice levels reached the lowest level in recorded history as temperatures soared to 30C above average.

The Northern Sea Route can cut journey times between Asia and Europe by up to two weeks by allowing ships to avoid travelling through the Suez Canal or past the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The Arctic Ocean route is more costly as icebreakers are still required to accompany ships.

Maersk confirmed the success of the “one-off trial passage”, with icebreaker ships providing assistance “as required”. “The trial passage will enable us to explore the operational feasibility of container shipping through the Northern Sea Route and to collect data,” a Maersk spokesperson said. “Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial alternative to our existing network.”

Chris Devonshire-Ellis of Dezan Shira & Associates comments: “The Northern Sea Passage opens up a new Eurasian route, and significant Chinese and Russian investment is being made in ports along the Russian arctic land mass to support this. The route will gradually become more viable and is expected to be a regular option in the next 20 years.”


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