Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company, is about to launch the first ever container ship on an Arctic route along Russia’s north coast, as melting sea ice promises to offer a possible future alternative to the Suez Canal. The Venta Maersk, a new ice-class 42,000 ton vessel which can carry 3,600 containers, will leave Vladivostok on Russia’s east coast later this week.The ship, carrying a cargo of frozen fish, will then follow the Northern Sea Route up through the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, before travelling along Russia’s north coast and eventually to St Petersburg by the end of September.
The route has seen growing traffic during summer months already, with cargos of oil and gas regularly making the journey.
Arctic sea ice hit a record low for 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 30 degrees above average.
Data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado showed this winter’s sea ice cover was less than a third of what it was just five years ago.
Though the Northern Sea Route can cut journey times between Asia and Europe by up to two weeks depending on destination, it remains more costly as nuclear icebreakers are still required to accompany ships.
In an email to The Independent, Maersk confirmed the undertaking as first reported by Norwegian newspaper High North News. A spokesperson said the company wanted to “underline that this is a one-off trial designed to explore an unknown route for container shipping and to collect scientific data”.
Speaking about the viability of the route, they added: “We of course also want to have a product which is cost efficient enough to generate a reasonable return. Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to our usual routes.”
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