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Remapping shipping lines

Scientists are predicting that the Arctic sea lanes might become ice-free by 2035

There may be another route that shipping lines may consider for faster services – the arctic. With climate change melting Antarctica, countries like Russia and China have been using the arctic to circumvent the heavy traffic down south at the Suez Canal, which blocked traffic for days following the incident last year when a ship got stuck.

Wary of the unknown
According to China, the Northern Sea route shaves off about 20 days compared to going through the Suez Canal. While some have been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, others are uncertain of the consequences of taking the unknown path.

But according to Captain Kenneth Boda, who took the U.S. Coast Guard cutter HEALY through the Arctic over Alaska and Canada in the summer, taking the Arctic route is not advisable, “It can be extremely brutally cold in the Arctic and then you can have a beautiful sunny day.” The ship that he led through the Arctic is one of two specialty ships known as icebreakers that can traverse the ice-clogged waters.

Based on a scenario analysis by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the sea level is predicted to rise about 1 foot by 2035. So far, the two largest shippers in the world – MSC and Maersk – have decided not to ship in the Arctic, citing environmental causes and the unpredictability of the region as some of their considerations.

It remains to be seen whether other shipping companies will take up the route, given the cost- and time-saving benefits that the route brings. Companies considering the route would have to decide carefully for the safety of both the cargo and seafarers, because, according to Gabriella Gricius from the North American and Arctic Defense and Security Network, “It’s really a question of saving shipping cost-saving time versus that lack of predictability.”

Union of Concerned Scientists


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