Friday, September 6, 2013

A container ship is traversing the northern sea route for the first time

Mat McDermott in Motherboard: An important historic event is in the making: For the first time a container ship will sail the Northern Sea Route through the Russian Arctic, traveling from China to Amsterdam. The journey, which began on August 8 and is expected to be completed on September 11, is only now possible due to high levels of Arctic sea ice melt that have occurred in the past several years.

The Barents Observer reports the 19,000-ton Yong Sheng, a container ship operated by China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO)—though not the exact one pictured at the top of this article—left port in China in the first week of August and is now in the Russian Arctic.

For a few years now the Northern Sea Route has become passable in summer, at least by vessels designed for icy Arctic waters. Last summer an icebreaker became the first Chinese vessel to make the passage. In 2010, a Norwegian vessel carrying iron ore to China became the first non-Russian vessel to complete the journey.

This year alone, Russia has allowed 204 ships of varying types to make the journey, with COSCO gaining permission to make two more sailings this year along the route. Russia's largest shipping company already offers non-containerized shipping along the route for six months of the year.

The Northern Sea Route, also known as the Northeast Passage, runs along the entire northern coast of Russia, across Siberia, before emptying into the Bering Strait and Pacific Ocean. Historically it has been ice free in parts for about two months of the year, but in recent years it has become passable because of climate change on Arctic ice melt....

A highly important map regarding the early search for a Northeast Passage. This remarkable map was drawn in 1601 by Theodore de Bry to describe the ill fated third voyage of the Dutch explorer William Barentsz in search of the Northeast Passage. The map depicts the Island of Nova Zemba, or Novaya Zemlya, in the Russian Arctic along with two stunning compass roses, numerous rhumb lines, and a multitude of seals and sea monsters.

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