Opening Transpolar Shipping Lanes

Friday January 08, 2016

Russian company Росатомфлот is planning to build an enormous ice breaker to open polar shipping routes.

The ship will be nuclear powered with a deadweight of at least 55,000 tons. For comparison, the largest United States icebreaker, the USCGC Healy, is only 16,000 tons. This massive ship’s purpose is to cut 50-meter shipping lanes across the Arctic Ocean. Cutting that lane will result in a 4000 kilometer route between east Asia and Europe, a huge cost savings over currently available shipping routes.

As global climate changes warms the polar regions, Arctic security has become a topic. The eight circumpolar countries1 have been jockeying for position. Whichever country can reasonably establish outposts will have have a stronger claim. After all, you cannot claim what you cannot defend.

The larger problem here is the risk to the polar ecology. Transpolar shipping will expose the Arctic Ocean to exotic marine life carried on these ships. In addition, ship captains have a lousy track record for not leaking toxic fluids.

These environmental concerns will take a back seat, in the end. The Russians think they have discovered the Northwest Passage. And as the gatekeeper, they will get to set the fare.

Image of the Ямал by Pink floyd88 a / Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, United States, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland