Global warming aids shippers
When the Suez Canal was opened in Egypt in 1869, the impact on global trade was revolutionary. Instead of having to sail around Africa, ships could go straight from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea — connecting Europe with Asia.
Still, the distances, even via the Suez Canal, remained enormous: 13,000 miles separate East Asia from Europe.
About 150 years on, the next human-made revolution could cut the distance almost by half.
As climate change progresses, the ice around the Arctic circle is thawing and opening a shorter and potentially economically viable shipping route to the north of Russia. With a distance of 8,000 miles, container ships would arrive about two weeks faster .
What has long been a Russian dream is matched by commercial interest in Western Europe.
The world’s biggest shipping company, Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk group, announced that it will send its first container ship via the Arctic route this month.
“It is important to underline that this is a one-off trial designed to explore an unknown route for container shipping and to collect scientific data — and not the launch of a new product,” a company spokesperson told the Associated Press.
The trial journey could mark the beginning of a new era in Arctic commercial shipping between three regions — Asia, North America and Europe — whose exports account for 90 percent of world trade.
In 2016, Copenhagen Business School researchers concluded the route could become accessible to container ships within the next 25 years.
“The six years with the lowest observed summer sea ice extent have all occurred within the last decade. New forecast models are continuously bringing forward expectations of ice-free summers in the Arctic, creating a significant potential for previously impossible maritime activities,” they wrote.
But with Russia and China pushing ahead, the Arctic route could become an alternative much quicker.
Temperatures in the Arctic have reached up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during some recent summer days and a prolonged heat wave would mean that container ships would no longer need expensive ice breakers clearing the path for them.
Being able to reach Europe within two weeks would make shipping as fast as the railway route popular among Asian and European companies because of its speediness. . But sending goods via train is twice as expensive as shipping them.
For Russia, the northeastern Arctic route would also be a revenue source. Given that the route passes along vast stretches within Moscow’s exclusive economic zone, companies seeking to use it would be billed by the Russian government.