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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Northeast Passage Open for business? 


Last month two German freighters sailed into Rotterdam Harbor after completing an historic month plus journey from Vladivostok, Russia, in the Pacific Far East, through the once frozen and impassable northeast Arctic route. The German company that operates the two specially reinforced cargo ships, said that taking the Arctic passage saved 10 days and $300,000 per ship over the standard 11,000 nautical-mile voyage through the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean in order to reach the North Atlantic.

However, the Christian Science Monitor reported that, the ships were accompanied "by a nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker for part of their journey, though they apparently did not require any assistance." It is unclear if the passage will be permanently open. The retreating polar ice cap has stimulated talk of opening a Northwest Passage above Canada, too.

The geopolitical consequences of either of these routes coming into frequent use would be significant. Can you say Siberian pirates anyone? Seriously though, the Monitor quotes the Russian Ministry of Transport's chief of Sea and River Transport, Alexander Davydenko, "Scientists tell us that we face warming, and that the boundaries of the Arctic ice are receding. Therefore we are taking a variety of measures ... to safeguard the interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic region." They report that, "a new department to administer the northern sea route is being created to build infrastructure and oversee tariffs... the ministry is also building at least one massive new nuclear icebreaker to supplement its current fleet of six."

We will keep you posted as the situation develops. Read the whole article here.

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