Monday, October 28, 2013

A new era for Arctic shipping? Chill, please

John Higginbottom in the Globe and Mail (Toronto): Last month, a humble marine bulk carrier made history transiting the Northwest Passage, opening a new chapter in Arctic shipping over the top of North America. Reactions depended on where people sit.

A U.S. federal government official helpfully discouraged Canadian focus on the Northwest Passage while we’re at odds over its legal status, something lawyers might or might not clear up by the end of the century. For those who favour Arctic development, the voyage offers a tempting glimpse of the new maritime economy oceanic warming may bring. Environmentalists foresee an apocalypse. For those with a love of history, the voyage recalls centuries of exploration and sacrifice by iron sailors in wooden ships searching for a shorter trade route between Europe and Asia.

A balanced and realistic reaction is in order. Recall the facts: The Nordic Orion, a Danish-American vessel, picked up coal from a dock in Vancouver, sailed north around Alaska, through the Canadian Arctic archipelago and then south past Greenland to deliver its cargo to Finland.

...Still, it will be years before the NWP is truly “open for business,” even for specialized cargo and ships like the Arctic Orion.... Sadly, Canada lacks deep-water ports, icebreakers, state-of-the-art navigation aids, search and rescue facilities, oil spill prevention and mitigation capacity and fully modern charts that would facilitate destination, cruise, fishing and trans-polar shipping.

The gradual and careful opening of the North American Arctic Ocean could bring great benefits to local people, traders, shippers and investors, while providing better destination service and shorter and greener routes to and from Asia from North America’s east coast, and to and from Europe from our west coast....

The Swedish ice breaking ship Oden, shot by Henning Grote, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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