In an unprecedented traverse of Russia’s Northern Sea Route, a heavy 3,600-container ship is taking advantage of rising summer temperatures and melting ice in the polar regions of the Arctic Ocean to cut two weeks off its delivery time from South Korea to St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Venta Maersk, carrying electronics from Busan, South Korea, and frozen fish from Vladivostok, will make its first stop in Bremerhaven, Germany, and end its record-breaking voyage in St. Petersburg in late September.
A “one-off sea trial,” the Venta’s summer trip around the northern coast of Russia is primarily intended as an exploratory voyage to gather data, according to a Maersk spokesperson, cited by the Washington Post.
Russian pilots will travel aboard the 200-meter ship to assist with navigation duties and
four Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers will stand by if the specially-reinforced Venta gets into trouble.
The crucial nature of the test voyage by a big container ship is the length of the trip. A craft traveling from Germany to South Korea around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope requires an average of 46 days, while using the Suez Canal cuts that time down to 34 days, according to searoutes.com.
The same trip, however, using the Northern Sea Route across an Arctic free of ice is expected to take just 23 days for large modern container ships.
In July, Russia sent its first liquefied natural gas cargo — from the Yamal production facility above the Arctic Circle to Rudong, China — in just 19 days, a savings of 16 days by avoiding the Suez Canal.
Due in part to shallow seas north of Siberia, the Northern Sea Route is increasingly free of ice beginning earlier in the season — around mid-July — and staying clear deeper into autumn — mid October — than other Arctic regions, even as NASA has noted a 13.4-percent drop in Arctic ice over the past decade.
Although the rapid disappearance of ice in the north and south poles of the Earth, as well as from the massive ice shelf on Greenland, is a deeply disturbing trend resulting from global warming brought about by human-induced climate change, the value of faster shipping times is inescapable.
Rosatom, the Russian firm providing the world’s largest nuclear-powered ice-breaking ships, has advertised to global shippers — in a poke at African terrorists in the Gulf of Aden — that its northern Arctic route has “no queues and no pirates.”