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Maersk launches Arctic shipping route in a worrying environmental sign



maersk container ship
cargo ship at sea.

Flickr /
Maersk Line

  • A Danish vessel is set to become the first container
    ship to use the Northern Sea Route which passes between the
    Arctic and Russia.
  • The Venta Maersk is trialing the Arctic route to
    produce data on its economic viability.
  • The icy route has seen growing marine traffic during
    the summer, with smaller ships carrying gas and oil already
    making the journey regularly.
  • In January this year, Arctic sea ice hit a record low
    and in March an “extreme event” was declared as the sea ice in
    the Bering strait reached record lows.

The first container ship to tackle an Arctic route along Russia’s
north coast has left the Russian port of Vladivostok as it trials
a journey made easier by global warming.

The Venta Maersk, which is carrying 3,600 containers, is making a
trial passage through the Northern Sea route, departing from
Eastern Russia and making port in St Petersburg by late
September, the BBC and

The Independent reported.

It will collect data as part of an effort to test its economic
viability of the route. The journey could be up to 14 days faster
than the more established southern route through the Indian Ocean
and the Suez canal.

The 42,000-tonne vessel, carrying a shipment of frozen fish and
other goods, is a new “ice class” vessel. It is designed to sail
in colder seas and has a stronger hull and protected rudders.

“The trial passage will enable us to explore the operational
feasibility of container shipping through the Northern Sea Route
and to collect data,” Maersk said, underlining that “this is a
one-off trial designed to explore an unknown route for container
shipping and to collect scientific data.”

The route was once impossible due to ice but a dethawing of the
Arctic, combined with advances in shipping, have made it
potentially feasible.

In January this year,
Arctic sea ice hit a record low and in March an “extreme event”
was declared.
The sea ice in the Bering strait reached its
lowest levels in recorded history as temperatures 30C above
average were recorded.

According to
figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in
, sea ice cover this winter was less than a third of
what it was five years ago.

The route has seen growing marine traffic this summer, with
smaller ships carrying cargos of gas and oil already making the
journey regularly.

Sune Scheller of Greenpeace Nordic
told the Independent
he was aware of companies looking at the
viability of Arctic shipping and said the change would be
“environmentally damaging in a number of ways.”

“If these ships were to have an accident then heavy fuel oil in
the marine environment is bad. It’s even worse in an Arctic
environment. The cold water temperatures slow or halt the natural
breakdown of the oil. So it remains in marine environments for a
much longer period of time,” Scheller said.

Maersk stressed that the route was just a test.

“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial
alternative to our existing network, which is defined by our
customers’ demand, trading patterns and population centres,”
Maersk said in a statement to Business Insider.

The journey is still expensive. The Maersk Line vessel needs an
escort of nuclear-powered icebreakers, ships pioneered by Russia
that clear a path through ice which can be over a metre thick at
speeds of 10 knots (12mph).

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