From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published September 30, 2013 01:31 PM

Crossing the Northwest Passage: Cargo Ship Navigates Arctic Route

The Northwest Passage is a 900-mile long sea route through the Arctic Ocean that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Access through this passage would allow many short cuts and benefits for the shipping industry. However, it's frozen waters and dangerous ice caps have proven to be obstacles for transport. That is, until now.


This passage has become more accessible because of melting sea ice that has opened up the waterways, which many say is due to global warming.

While other reports have discussed viable trans-Arctic shipping lanes between North America and Russia or Asia, only small vessels have been able to cross the region in summer months when the ice is less.

However, earlier this month, a 75,000 ton Danish-owned cargo ship known as the Nordic Orion traversed the passage, entering history books as one of the first bulk carriers to navigate these icy Arctic waters.

On a positive environmental note, the vessel took a 1,000 nautical-mile shortcut, saving not only time and money, but reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.

By using this route, the trip is cut a week shorter, so it makes sense that ships will pay less for freight costs.

Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish operator of the ship, says the shortcut allowed the ship to carry 15,000 more tons of coal than Panama Canal's depth limit would have allowed. The firm said the reduced time at sea will save $80,000 in fuel costs.

So what's the catch? Why aren't more ships making their way through the Arctic instead of Panama?

Not every ship can make the voyage. A trip through the Northwest Passage requires specially designed ships, which are built to operate in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.

Another issue that has risen as a result to these Arctic expeditions is the right to the shipping channels. Whether these waters are considered international or Canadian is still a gray area. James Given, president of the Seafarer's International Union of Canada stated: "The Canadian government needs to take a firm stand on shipping via the Northwest passage in order to safeguard the environment and to enforce Canada's sovereignty. There must be a net benefit to Canada, and Canadian stakeholders in the shipping industry, not just an open door to Flag of Convenience Shipping to increase their profit margins by shaving miles off of their shipping routes."

Read more at NPR.

Northwest Passage image via Wikipedia.

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