Danish shipping firm takes Russian Arctic route as alternative to Suez Canal

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A Danish vessel loaded with Russian fish and South Korean electronics arrived on Thursday in Saint Petersburg, becoming the first container ship to navigate the Russian Arctic as the ice pack melts and recedes.

Maersk’s new ice class container vessel, Venta Maersk, embarked on a trial journey from the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok in late August, completing the Arctic route in five weeks. Read more

“We are carrying out a one-off trial passage of the Northern Sea Route from East to West,” said Janina von Spalding, a spokeswoman for the world’s biggest shipping company.

The vessel earlier made stops at Russia’s Vostochny Port and Busan in South Korea before passing through the Bering Strait and Germany’s Bremerhaven and finally entering Saint Petersburg.

The ship carrying 3,600 containers and designed to operate in extreme weather conditions was assisted by nuclear icebreakers.

The route along Siberia’s northern coast could until now only be used by far smaller ships and was only passable several weeks a year.

But as a result of rising temperatures and melting ice it is becoming accessible for increasingly longer periods.

Russia is investing heavily in the development of this maritime shortcut that allows ships to cut the journey to Asian ports by 15 days compared with the conventional route through the Suez Canal.

Maersk said the one-off trial crossing presented a “unique opportunity to gain operational experience in a new area and to test vessel systems and crew capabilities.”

The company stressed however it “currently does not see the Northern Sea Route as a viable commercial alternative to existing east-west routes.”

The passage is only feasible “around three months a year” and requires additional costs to hire accompanying icebreakers, Maersk said.

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