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article imageContainer ship to tackle the Arctic sea route north of Russia

By Karen Graham     Aug 23, 2018 in Environment
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 left the Russian port of Vladivostok at 1715 hours, local time today en route for St. Petersburg, taking what is known as the Northern Sea Route. The 42,000-tonne vessel is carrying a shipment of frozen fish and other goods,
The ice class Venta Maersk, capable of carrying 3,600 containers was delivered last month to Maersk, the world's biggest shipping company, headquartered in Denmark.
"This is a trial designed to explore an unknown route for container shipping and to collect scientific data," Maersk said in a statement. "Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to our usual routes."
Being an "ice-class vessel," the Venta Maersk is capable of going through about 3 feet of unconsolidated ice. This makes the ship strong enough to withstand the rigors of the route, but only for three months out of the year, right now.
Data collected will include "measuring air temperature and wind speed ... probably even be monitoring the crew in terms of their performance for when they have to be out on the deck for whatever reason in the exposed air," said Paul Bingham, a transportation and international trade economist with the Economic Development Research Grou.
The journey is expected to take as long as 14 days, and the ship's crew of 26 have been given special training to withstand the harsh conditions. Maersk's fleet of new ships are designed to withstand waters as cold as minus 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why the Arctic route is being eyed
At one time, in the not so distant past, the Northern Sea route was not an option. However, given that global warming has started thawing of the Arctic, and adding advances in shipping, this has made the Arctic route 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 Colorado, sea ice cover this winter was less than a third of what it was five years ago.
The new Russian "Christophe de Margerie" Arctic LNG tanker is to carry the first shipment ...
The new Russian "Christophe de Margerie" Arctic LNG tanker is to carry the first shipment from the Yamal LNG terminal.
OLGA MALTSEVA, POOL/AFP/File
And one of the biggest reasons for pushing the Arctic sea route is how much cheaper it would be than going through the Suez Canal to reach customers and how much shorter the new route would be, saving a great deal of time. But large container ships would actually have limited use on the Arctic route.
Passing through the Arctic, from Northern Europe to Shanghai, for example, can reduce the distance covered by ships by up to 3000 nautical miles, compared to the same journey when passing through the Suez canal.
The Irish Times is reporting that Arild Moe, a senior research fellow at Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo, said: “There are many limitations to large-scale container shipping through the Arctic. There is a lack of markets along the route; you cannot use it the whole year; and limitations on size, which is crucial for economies of scale.”
More about maersk, Northern Sea Route, Climate change, Suez Canal, Environment