Mapping the future of Arctic shipping
There will be ships with Chinese flags sailing through this route in the future,” the Globe and Mail reported Liu Pengfei, a spokesperson for China’s Maritime Safety Administration, saying in April. The route in question? The Northwest Passage. The occasion of Liu’s comments? The publication of Arctic Navigation Guide (Northwest Passage), a 365-page Chineselanguage shipping guidebook for the famed — and increasingly more open — waterway. Questions of sovereignty aside, the prospect of any container ships or supertankers transiting the route, which has seen a 166 per cent increase in vessel traffic since 2004, seems fraught with peril. That’s partly why the Pew Charitable Trusts, a U.s.-based public-policy NGO, is calling for “a comprehensive system of tiered shipping routes that will benefit Canada, the shipping industry, and northern communities” in its Integrated Arctic Corridors Framework report, published two weeks before China’s Arctic shipping guide. In addressing what it calls Canada’s lack of “a clear, cohesive vision for Arctic shipping policy,” one that could “account for the environmental and social complexity of Canada’s Arctic Ocean,” the report suggests classifying low-, mediumand high-risk shipping corridors. This map shows the current proposed primary and secondary transportation corridors identified by the Canadian Coast Guard and depicts four key elements from the report that could help determine the location and size of new corridors: Inuit-identified areas of importance, ecologically and biologically significant areas, hydrographic survey status and ice cover. The last two elements could pose serious challenges. “Although a climate change-related decline in sea ice is improving ship access, it will also result in increasingly hazardous multiyear ice floes, extreme ocean conditions, and more unpredictable weather,” says the report, which later notes that only one per cent of Canada’s Arctic waters are adequately surveyed and that 10 per cent of nautical charts meet modern standards. All these are factors that China — and the rest of the world — should consider before traversing waters that have long confounded the most able navigators.