A Disturbing Success: The First Commercial Trans-Arctic Passage

Monday, September 14, 2009

This week is expected to mark a historic event in ocean travel. Two German cargo vessels are slated to dock in the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands after beginning their journey in Asia. But unlike the countless voyages other ships have taken from Asia to Europe, this one utilized a route never before accomplished by a commercial vessel—across the Arctic Ocean.

Sailing north from South Korea, the Beluga Fraternity and Beluga Foresight headed east, straddling the northern coast of Russia across waters that have historically been clogged with ice. But thanks to global warming, the Arctic Ocean’s ice has thinned considerably in the summer, making it possible for the ships loaded with construction materials to complete a new sea route that’s more than 4,000 nautical miles shorter than those ordinarily used. On September 7, the two ships, with the help of Russian ice-breakers, arrived safely in Siberia.
Officials in Russia are ecstatic about the inaugural Trans-Arctic journey, in the hopes other shipping companies will make use of the route in the summer time and create new opportunities for Russian ports that have been left out in the cold by the once-constant ice packs.
Environmentalists aren’t happy at all by the precedence of the German voyage. “This is further proof that climate change is happening now,” Greenpeace’s Melanie Duchin told The Independent. “This is not a cause for celebration but cause for immediate action” in order to stem the growing effects of global warming on the planet.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
A Triumph for Man, a Disaster for Mankind (by Tony Paterson, Independent)
Arctic Shortcut Beckons Shippers as Ice Thaws (by Andrew Kramer and Andrew Revkin, New York Times)
Oil Companies Look Forward to Global Warming (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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