Right now, a Danish ship named Nordic Orion is transporting coal from Canada’s west coast through the Arctic Ocean and ultimately to Finland. Once completed it will be only the second freighter to make the trek across the top of the globe since 1969. The Northwest Passage may soon become a popular route for freight-carrying ships as oceans warm and navigation routes stay free of ice longer each year.
This brand new shipping lane could have great implications for Canada, Russia, and China. Canada in particular has been working feverishly to find new transport routes for its bounty of tarsands oil, including cross-country pipelines and a combination of railways and ships through the Hudson Bay. With the ever-growing might of Russian energy and Chinese consumption, these lanes will surely become crucial to the global energy trade and surely for other goods as well.
“In China, the media refer to the Northern Sea Route as the ‘Arctic Golden Waterway,’ [Michael] Byers wrote. “Professor Bin Yang of Shanghai Maritime University estimates the route could save his country $60 billion to $120 billion per year.”
Russia has taken an aggressive approach to readying its waterways for increased traffic, he said, using icebreakers to escort commercial ships for a fee, and planning to add new search-and-rescue stations, upgrading its Arctic ports, improving weather and ice forecasting and streamlining shipping permits.
This graphic from The Globe and Mail gives a great visualization of the Northwest Passage and recent expeditions through the icy waters.