Global warming and Arctic ice melt have received worldwide attention in recent years. The opportunity that receding ice presents for the shipping industry with regards to alternative voyage routes is enormous – ships are starting to utilise Arctic passages for much lengthier periods of time and the development of new passages which were previously unnavigable is driving shorter trading times and fuel cost savings.
Furthermore, the risk of piracy can be avoided by using Arctic routes. For, instance, sailing from Shanghai to Hamburg through the NSR eliminates the risk of encountering Somali pirates – a significant threat to many seafarers when using the Suez Canal route.
The key routes currently connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are the Transpolar Sea Route, the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage or Northern Sea Route (NSR), and the Arctic Bridge. The NSR and Northeast Passage are essentially the same route, with the additional Barents Sea included in the Northeast Passage, and are therefore used interchangeably. In light of increasing ice recession throughout the summer months, the NSR has experienced high levels of interest and activity as a viable trading route for all-year round voyages.
Furthermore, under the Russian administrative system, international shipping through the NSR is expensive and confusing. Using the NSR across the top of Russia is often viewed as a better option for transporting goods from the Pacific Ocean to Europe as it is less ice-bound, and increasingly becoming so, when compared to the Northwest Passage across the top of Canada. However, in order to do this, a ship owner must contact Russia's NSR Administration several months in advance. This not only involves a lengthy and complicated process of approval but is also extortionally expensive as it involves paying a tariff which can reach up to US $500,000 a voyage.
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