Denmark’s Maersk Sends First Container Ship from Asia to Europe on Northern Sea Route via Arctic
The world’s largest container shipping operator, Danish company Maersk, has sent the first ever commercial container vessel, the Venta Maersk, to trial the Northern Sea Route in the Artic on a voyage from South Korea to St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Venta Maersk departed Russia’s Far East port of Vladivostok on Thursday to sail around Eurasia via the Arctic, World Maritime News reports.
The ice-class container vessel is expected to pass the Bering Strait between the Pacific and the Arctic Ocean on or around September 1, 2018, and is planned to arrive in Saint Petersburg at the end of September.
The Northern Sea Route through Russian waters is substantially shorter than the traditional route for Asia – Europe sea trade through the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean.
Climate change has warmed the Arctic waters and reduced the amount of ice there making the voyage much easier.
This has made the possibility of container ships taking the Northern Sea Route from Asia to Europe far more feasible.
The 2018 summer saw temperatures as high as 30 degrees Celsius in the Arctic while registering the lowest level of sea ice on record.
If the Venta Maersk voyage goes as planned, it will be 14 days shorter than the voyage takes via the Southern Sea Route.
“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 in a statement.
“This is a one-off trial designed to explore an unknown route for container shipping and to collect scientific data,” it added.
The Venta Maersk left Vladivostok on Russia’s east coast on Thursday for South Korea, and is scheduled to depart the South Korean port of Busan early next week.
It is to bring a cargo of Russian fish and South Korean electronics through the Bering Strait near Alaska, all the way around Russia and Norway to the Russian port city of St Petersburg in the Baltic Sea.
Ships taking the Northern Route have to pay for a Russian permit, ice-breaker escorts, and higher insurance.
Through the Egyptian state-owned Suez Canal, the 42,000-ton Venta Maersk with its 3,600 containers would have paid a fee of EUR 400,000 (USD 465,000). Russia is understandably eager to develop the Northern Route as a viable sea trade route.
However, Copenhagen-based Maersk emphasized that the route was only a test.
“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to our usual routes. Today, the passage is only feasible for around three months a year, which may change with time,” a spokeswoman for Maersk said.
The new ice-class Venta Maersk was launched in 2018, and is designed to sail in colder seas. Smaller vessels with gas and oil cargo already take the Northern Route regularly.
China’s COSCO and Russian natural gas producer Novatek used the Northern Sea Route for the first time to bring liquefied natural gas to China in July 2018.
(Banner image: World Maritime News on Twitter)