A Chinese cargo ship is attempting one of the first-ever commercial trips through the Northeast Passage above Russia, a route opened up by global warming.
The Yong Sheng is a 19,000-tonne vessel operated by state-owned Cosco Group. It set sail Thursday from northeastern China for Rotterdam, Netherlands. The company’s website states the journey via the Bering Strait could shave as much as 15 days off the traditional course, which winds through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea.
Arctic shipping is taking off faster than the other big economic prospect for the polar region, oil exploration, where companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Cairn Energy have been plagued by delays.
But analysts caution that it will be years before the route, which is only passable for a few months, is commercially viable let alone a rival to the Suez Canal, which handled more than 17,000 ships in 2012.
“Climate change is certainly opening new Arctic shipping routes,” said Cameron Dueck, a Canadian author who sailed the Northwest Passage in 2009. “But the most common routes through the [Arctic] continue to have ice even in the warmest years, meaning shipping companies will have to be selective and opportunistic in using them.”