The hazardous Northwest Passage is open for business. The MV Nunavik left Canada’s Deception Bay on September 19 and rounded Alaska’s Point Barrow on Tuesday – without an icebreaker escort.
Owned by shipping firm Fednav and built in Japan, the Nunavik is the first cargo ship to make the trip unassisted, although technically, she is rated as a Polar Class 4 vessel, and can withstand year-round operations in first-year ice.
The Nunavik is carrying 23,000 tonnes of nickel concentrate extracted from the Chinese-owned Nunavik Nickel Mine near Deception Bay, Fednav said. The route to the port of Bayuquan, China, is about 40 per cent shorter than through the Panama Canal.
Her successful voyage underlines the huge role global warming is playing in international trade. Two years ago, Arctic sea ice shrank to cover the smallest area ever recorded. That’s already affecting traffic through the Suez Canal.
Russia believes the Northern Sea Route could become the prime passage between Europe and Asia. Traffic jumped from four vessels in 2010 to 71 in 2013 – the journey takes only 35 days, compared to a 48-day journey between the continents via the Suez Canal.
It’s desperately trying to stake ownership over the passage along its Arctic coast and seeking to charge ships for using it.
Panama’s stranglehold on shipping is under threat for the first time in 100 years. Testing will begin mid next year on a new set of locks that will allow the world’s largest tankers to pass through, but the project is suffering cost overruns heading into the billions.
And a Chinese businessman is serious about a $40bn plan to build a whole new canal through Nicaragua, which will be three times longer than the Panama route. According to reports, the Nicaraguans have green-lit the project and it’s aiming for a 2020 opening.
Somewhat ironically, Fednav says through fuel savings, it expects to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions during MV Nunavik’s voyage by about 1,300 metric tons (1,430 tons) – the very thing allowing it to now take the shortcut.
Adding to its green credentials, Fednav also said they consulted the World Wildlife Fund to find a route that causes the least impact on marine wildlife.
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