Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Northern Sea Route

China wants ships to use faster Arctic route opened by global warming
Ships sail on the Yangtze river near Shanghai November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Ships sail on the Yangtze river near Shanghai November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

China will encourage ships flying its flag to take the Northwest Passage via the Arctic Ocean, a route opened up by global warming, to cut travel times between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a state-run newspaper said on Wednesday.

China is increasingly active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing to a free trade deal with Iceland.

Shorter shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean would save Chinese companies time and money. For example, the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Arctic route is 2,800 nautical miles shorter than going by the Suez Canal.


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This Russian ship may spell the end of Singapore’s prosperity
 Set to sail in 2014, the Baltika is a vessel Singapore cannot ignore

The Northern Sea Route

The ship’s name is Baltika. You would expect this vessel to be a military one with advanced weaponry. It is not.


Baltika is an icebreaker. While conventional icebreakers do their job by sailing head-on or rear-on into ice, Baltika does so sideways.

This 76 million euro vessel was ordered by the Russian Ministry of Transport in 2011 and built by Finnish company Arctech. It is scheduled to be delivered to Russia in the spring of 2014.

related: S’pore’s in the Arctic Council?

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The Northern Sea Route
A graphical comparison between use of the North East Passage (blue) and an alternative route through the Suez Canal (red)

The Northern Sea Route (Russian: Се́верный морско́й путь, Severnyy morskoy put, shortened to Севморпуть, Sevmorput) is a shipping lane officially defined by Russian legislation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from Kara Gates strait between the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait. The entire route lies in Arctic waters and parts are free of ice for only two months per year. Before the beginning of the 20th century it was called the Northeast Passage, and is still sometimes referred to by that name.

History - The motivation to navigate the North East Passage was initially economic. In Russia, the idea of a possible seaway connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific was first put forward by the diplomat Gerasimov in 1525. However, Russian settlers and traders on the coast of the White Sea, the Pomors, had been exploring parts of the route as early as the 11th century.

During a voyage across the Barents Sea in search of the North East Passage in 1553, English explorer Hugh Willoughby thought he saw islands to the north, and islands called Willoughby's Land were shown on maps published by Plancius and Mercator in the 1590s and they continued to appear on maps by Jan Janssonius and Willem Blaeu into the 1640s. By the 17th century, traders had established a continuous sea route from Arkhangelsk to the Yamal Peninsula, where they portaged to the Gulf of Ob. This route, known as theMangazeya seaway, after its eastern terminus, the trade depot of Mangazeya, was an early precursor to the Northern Sea Route.


Ship traffic grows on Northern Sea Route
Shipping on Russia’s northern sea route can cut time and money off of transportation costs between Europe and China. (IMAGE BY HUGO AHLENIUS/ UNEP/GRID-ARENDAL)

Russia may establish a new bureau to oversee growing shipping traffic through its Arctic Northern Sea Route, report the Barents Observerand Voice of Russia.

The Northern Sea Route administration would provide navigational and hydrographic information to ships travelling through the Arctic Ocean over the top of Russia, in a route sometimes also called the Northeast Passage.

Traffic is already growing on this route, which cuts one-third of the travel time off a trip between European and Asian ports through the Suez Canal. At least six convoys with oil tankers are expected to travel the route next year, and Russia icebreaker agency already has 15 requests for assistance for next year, according to the Barents Observer.


Northern Sea Route forecast to open from mid-August

Weathernews is predicting that the Northern Sea Route (NSR) via the Arctic Sea round northern Russia will open from mid-August, while the northwestern passage via Canada will open shortly thereafter

Weathernews’ Global Ice Center GIC said this would mean the NSR would be open one month earlier than last year. It said that ice in the Arctic Sea had started to melt in late May and continued to recede at the same pace as previous years.

“Ice coverage in September when the greatest area of ice melts in the year could be even less than last summer. However, the GIC says that there is also a slight possibility the minimum ice extent may not reach or exceed the lowest ever recorded surface area seen in 2012,” Weathernews said. GIC expects the NSR via Far North Russia to open from mid-August, open being defined as when a vessel can sail without hitting sea ice, and stay open till around early October.


Northern Sea Route opens to commercial traffic
The Global Ice Center at Weathernews Inc has announced that the Northern Sea Route (NSR) bordering Russia is now open to commercial shipping traffic as of August 21. This is two weeks earlier than last season when lower than average temperatures resulted in slow pace of melting in the Arctic Ocean. Last summer, the northeastern passage opened at the beginning of September

Meanwhile large areas of sea ice still remain in the northwestern passage along the Canadian coast. Based on analysis of satellite images by the Global Ice Center (GIC), ice experts at Weathernews predicts this too should melt away by early September, thus opening the other passage for vessels.

The NSR has been in use by vessels escorted by Russian icebreakers since late June. However, enough ice has melted north of the New Siberian Islands (Novosibirsk) to allow vessels to pass through the region with minimal risk of collision from now until early October, according to Weathernews’ Global Ice Center.

Chinese shipping companies continue to eye the Arctic as a new, quicker route to Europe with a number of Chinese transits expected soon.


Northern Sea Route Opens Early
Global Ice Center Predicts NSR to Remain Open for Six Weeks

The Global Ice Center at Weathernews Inc.has announced on August 22nd that the Northern Sea Route (NSR) bordering Russia is now open to commercial shipping traffic as of August 21st, 2014. This is two weeks earlier than last season when lower than average temperatures resulted in slow pace of melting in the Arctic Ocean. Last summer, the northeastern passage opened at the beginning of September.

Meanwhile large areas of sea ice still remain in the northwestern passage along the Canadian coast. Based on analysis of satellite images by the Global Ice Center (GIC), ice experts at Weathernews predicts this too should melt away by early September, thus opening the other passage for vessels. The NSR has been in use by vessels escorted by Russian icebreakers since late June. However, enough ice has melted north of the New Siberian Islands (Novosibirsk) to allow vessels to pass through the region with minimal risk of collision from now until early October, according to Weathernews’ Global Ice Center.

Use of the NSR by the shipping industry as cost-saving alternative route continues to grow in recent years. Weathernews established the Global Ice Center in 2008 to provide enhanced voyage planning services to the shipping industry. The Japan-based company calls the ice advisories it provides to vessels sailing the Arctic and other icy areas, Polar Routeing Service.


International Northern Sea Route Programme

In spite of this, the Northern Sea Route has so far not been utilised commercially to a significant degree by non-Russian vessels



INSROP (International Northern Sea Route Programme) was a six-year (June 1993 – March 1999) international research programme designed to create an extensive knowledge base about the ice-infested shipping lanes running along the coast of the Russian Arctic from Novaya Zemlya in the west to the Bering Strait in the east. This route was previously named the Northeast Passage, but is now more often known under its Russian name - the Northern Sea Route (NSR).


The NSR represents an up to 40% saving of distance from Northern Europe to Northeast Asia and the north-west coast of North America compared to southerly sea routes via Suez or Panama. Moreover, the Russian Arctic holds enormous reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources which may best be exported by sea.

As we enter the 21st century, technological, political and even climatic developments are again making the NSR an interesting possibility. Russia officially opened the NSR for foreign ships in 1991, and better and less costly ice-breaking technology is being developed. And although the NSR is impeded by ice and Russian political instability, the Suez and Panama Canals have their own inherent problems of draft limitations, which may be avoided on the NSR. Furthermore, political instability in the Middle East, the piracy problem in SE Asia, and a new political regime for the Panama Canal may also act to benefit the NSR. There are also indications that global warming may gradually improve the ice conditions of the NSR.


The Northern Sea Route as a Viable Development – Russia’s Fleet of Atomic Icebreakers


The Northern Sea Route (NSR), also known as the Northeast Passage, is the shipping lane that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It can thus be recognized as a potential expedited transit corridor for Europe and Asia. Vessels transitting from ports in Europe to those in Asia via the Northern Sea Route en lieu of the Suez Canal Route are able to halve transit times, reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and finally reduce the risk of piracy through the avoidance of regions prone to piracy such as those about the Horn of Africa. The Northern Sea Route is currently overseen by the Russian authorities through the Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA) under the Ministry of Transportation.

According to Russian law, as of 2013, the Northern Sea Route will begin from the eastern coast of Novaya Zemlya (Kara Gate), and extend through to the latitude of Cape Dezhnev (the easternmost point of the Russian mainland). Within the law, insurance requirements, shipping fees, and icebreaker assistance fees have been, to some degree, standardized. Finally, NSR use is limited to those vessels that are of the 1A-ice class. Many firms that would gain from NSR access do not have this requirement and new A1 class ships are being purchased as a result.

To Yield a Viable Northern Sea Route is to Outsmart the Ice


Arctic Meltdown: Economic and Security Implications of Global Warming

(The Guardian) Global warming means that the Arctic’s fabled Northern Sea Route could soon be ice-free in summer, slashing journey times for cargo ships sailing from the Far East to Europe. Which is why the Yong Sheng, a rust-streaked Chinese vessel, is on a truly historic journey.

For a ship on a mission of worldwide importance, the Yong Sheng is a distinctly unimpressive sight. The grey and green hull of the 19,000-tonne cargo vessel, operated by China‘s state-owned Cosco Group, is streaked with rust, while its cargo of steel and heavy equipment would best be described as prosaic.

Yet the Yong Sheng’s journey, which began on 8 August from Dalian, a port in north-eastern China, to Rotterdam is being watched with fascination by politicians and scientists. They are intrigued, not by its cargo, but by its route – for the Yong Sheng is headed in the opposite direction from the Netherlands and sailing towards the Bering Strait that separates Russia and Alaska. Once through the strait, it will enter the Arctic Ocean, where it will attempt one of the most audacious voyages of modern seafaring: sailing through one of the Arctic’s fabled passages, the Northern Sea Route.


Rapid Arctic thawing could be economic timebomb, scientists say

According to Russian authorities, 218 ships from Korea, China, Japan, Norway, Germany and elsewhere have so far applied for permission to follow the "Northern sea route" (NSR) this year. This route uses the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska and is only open for a few months each year with an icebreaker.

But following 2012's record collapse of the Arctic sea ice, shipping companies are gaining confidence to use the route. In 2012, only 46 ships sailed its entire length from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans and in 2011 only four. The route can save even medium-sized bulk carrier 10-15 days and hundreds of tonnes of bunker fuel on a journey between northern Norway and China.

Satellite data collated from the US National snow and ice data centre in Boulder, Colorado this week showed ice loss now accelerating and, at 8.2m sqkm (3.2m square miles) approaching the same extent as during last year's record melt. Over 130,000 sqkm of sea ice melted between July 1 and 15. "Compared to the 1981 to 2010 average, ice extent on July 15 was 1.06m sqkm (409,000 square miles) below average," said a spokesman.


NORTHERN SEA ROUTE OPENS UP TO NON-RUSSIAN VESSEL, MAKES MARITIME HISTORY

The Northern Sea Route is rarely open due to large amounts of ice present most of the year, but that is changing with global warming and a Nordic ship is set to deliver its metals to Asia via the route for the first time in recent history, taking advantage of the longer period in which the route is open. The opening of the route will have vast implications for the shipping industry, a trade that was previously dependent on routes through the Suez Canal. In fact, fuel savings are expected to reach $180,000, carbon emissions are expected to reduce drastically, and the voyage time is cut back by one third, from 60-65 days to 19-20 days.

The MV Nordic Barents will journey from Norway to China to deliver iron ore. The opening up of the route has been a long time coming, but the relevant parties took their time to come to an agreement on usage conditions. MarineLog reports that the route is now expected to be open for two-four months out of the year.

The complicated component of the news is the fact that the very thing that has made such voyages now possible is global warming itself, while users of the route claim their environmental impact will be drastically less, because of shorter travel distance required, when compared to travel through the Suez Canal. So is the development really something to celebrate or is it in fact something Greenpeace may plan huge protests around? We'll have to see. Either way, history is being made this month, for better or worse.


Preparing for next year’s Northern Sea Route season
The last convoys of vessels are soon ending this year’s season along the Northern Sea Route, but the different shipping companies have already started to prepare for next year

“MV Nordic Barents” was the first foreign flag bulk-carrier to sail the Northern Sea Route in transit. Photo: Nordic Shipping Company.

At least six convoys with oil tankers will sail the Northern Sea Route from the Barents Sea to the Far East next year, according to the head of Rosatomflot, Russia’s nuclear ice-breaker fleet, Vyacheslav Ruksha. Also cargo vessels and likely some bulk carriers will sail the route with assistance from nuclear powered icebreakers. The icebreaker fleet has so far got 15 orders for assistance in 2011.

While 2009 was a kind of test year for vessels sailing the entire route from Asia to Europe via the Arctic, this year has been the breakthrough for commercial shipping along the Northern Sea Route. The rapid ongoing climate change is bringing vast change to the Arctic, and previous ice-covered areas are becoming more accessible for shipping. September 2010 was the first time in modern history that the Northern Sea Route was totally ice-free, with only some few places with drift ice that could be seen from the bridges of the vessels that sailed the route



China's voyage of discovery to cross the less frozen north
Summer ice cover in the Arctic has dropped by more than 40% over the last few decades. Photograph: Goncalo Diniz/Alamy

For a ship on a mission of worldwide importance, the Yong Sheng is a distinctly unimpressive sight. The grey and green hull of the 19,000-tonne cargo vessel, operated by China's state-owned Cosco Group, is streaked with rust, while its cargo of steel and heavy equipment would best be described as prosaic.

Yet the Yong Sheng's journey, which began on 8 August from Dalian, a port in north-eastern China, to Rotterdam is being watched with fascination by politicians and scientists. They are intrigued, not by its cargo, but by its route – for the Yong Sheng is headed in the opposite direction from the Netherlands and sailing towards the Bering Strait that separates Russia and Alaska. Once through the strait, it will enter the Arctic Ocean, where it will attempt one of the most audacious voyages of modern seafaring: sailing through one of the Arctic's fabled passages, the Northern Sea Route.

The passage, which hugs the coast of northern Russia, and its mirror route, the Northwest Passage, which threads its way through the islands and creeks of northern Canada, have claimed the lives of thousands of sailors who tried for centuries to cross the Arctic in an attempt to link the ports of the Far East and Europe by sailing via the north pole. Thick pack ice, violent storms and plummeting temperatures thwarted these endeavours.

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Updated 13 Sep 2016: Arctic shipping: The Northwest Passage

For centuries, a harsh climate & ice-choked seas dashed the dreams of sailors attempting to cross the Canadian Northwest Passage between Asia & Europe. Now, thanks to climate change & reduced ice cover, the trip is not nearly so daunting. This month, the Crystal Serenity, a luxury cruise ship, carried a record thousand-plus passengers and crew through the passage. Next year, it will do the same.

Does this mean that the age-old vision of a time-saving, money-making Arctic passage for the world’s shippers is finally coming true? Do not bet on it.

In theory, it is a terrific idea. Travelling from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Northwest Passage is about 3,540km shorter than going through the Panama Canal. In 2013, the Nordic Orion became the first bulk cargo carrier to traverse the passage. Bound for Finland from Vancouver, it shaved more than 1,600km - & US$200,000 (S$271,800) - off a more typical route.