Sailing the Northeast Passage in Winter

February 25th, 2013
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: A Greek tanker with a specially reinforced hull, chartered by the Russian company Gazprom, has made the first ever "winter" crossing of the Arctic Ocean north of Russia to deliver natural gas to Japan. The tanker was accompanied by two nuclear powered Russian icebreakers for some of the journey. The northeast passage from Europe to the Orient has been used during the summer months for some years, but still has had limited traffic. However, that is still better than the more famous Northwest Passage around Greenland and northern Canada which is still problematic, even in the summer.

Click on picture for larger image of the Greek tanker Ob River.


Follow up:

The voyage began 07 November 2012 embarking from the Port of Hammerfest (Norway) and ended when the ship arrived at the Port of Tobata (Japan) on 05 December 2012.  So technically the voyage was not as advertised since the official start of winter was more than two weeks after the voyage was completed.  However, the ship did encounter young sea ice with thinkness up to 30 cm (one foot), according to LNG World News.


Maps from the BBC.

The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice is reached between 18 February and 30 March, according to D News, which provides the following map of sea ice extent for January 2013.  The Ob River had passed beyond the eastern extent of Janaury sea ice (northern Bering Sea) a full month before January began.

Click on map for larger image from National Snow & Ice Data Center.



Thus it seems that the proclaimed "winter crossing" is somewhat of an exaggeration.  It is unlikely that a crossing would be possible with mature winter ice which looks something like the picture below, far more formidable than up to one foot of young sea ice.

Picture from D News.


According to a BBC article, even though 2012 saw record cargo volume shipped across the Arctic Ocean from Europe to the Far East, there were still only 40 ships making the voyage.  That compares to 19,000 ships going through the Suez Canal.  And the Suez traffic remains high in spite of the Somali pirate gauntlet that must be traversed on the eastern side of the canal.

According to the BBC:

"The major point about gas is that it now goes east and not west," says Gunnar Sander, senior adviser at the Norwegian Polar Institute and an expert on how climate change impacts economic activity in the Arctic.


He stresses that the changes in climate are less important than the growing demand for oil and gas.

"The major driver is the export of resources from the Arctic region, not the fact that you can transit across the Arctic sea."

Read other Global Economic Intersection articles about the arctic:


Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture.)

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