Maersk Line, the biggest container shipping company on the planet, is readying its first ever container ship for an Arctic voyage along Russia’s Siberian coastline. An unprecedent Arctic melt has made the route clearer than usual – and if conditions continue, the passage may provide an alternative to the congested Suez Canal.
Venta Maersk, a new 42,000-tonne ice-class vessel capable of hauling up to 3,600 containers, will depart from the eastern Russia city of Vladivostok by the end of August with a cargo of frozen fish. She is expected to reach St. Petersburg by the end of September.
Although this is Maersk’s first Arctic route, oil and gas firms have already been making trips along this route.
Arctic Sea ice plummeted to another record low in January this year, and an “extreme event” was declared in March after the Bering Sea’s ice levels hit their lowest levels in recorded history and temperatures rose 30°C above average. The National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado also revealed that Arctic sea ice cover – in winter – was less than a third of what it was just five years ago.
Maersk confirmed the plans to UK newspaper The Independent, although stressed that it is currently a “one-off trial… to collect scientific data”. They did not rule out the possibility of using the route in the future if warmer conditions persist.
Sune Scheller, of Greenpeace Nordic, explained to The Independent that shipping companies using these Arctic routes was “environmentally damaging in a number of ways”.
“It’s cheap, but it’s damaging,” he said. “It’s more polluting, air quality-wise. It adds to particulate matter – black carbon, as it’s known – which rests on white surfaces like ice and snow and absorbs heat instead of reflecting it, which contributes to climate change.
“In the Antarctic there is a ban on heavy fuel oil. You are not allowed to use it within the wider Antarctic. But a similar ban in the Arctic is not in place. This is a reminder for the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) that the shipping industry is looking at this [route] in increasing detail, and they need to get a ban in place now.”
As The Economist notes, “just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world’s cars put together”.