The Venta Maersk – a 3,600 TEU ice class cargo vessel – has become the first container ship to sail along the Northern Sea Route.
Departing from Vladivostok in the Russian far east on 23 August, the ship will head for Saint Petersburg carrying a cargo of frozen fish. The journey across the Arctic is estimated to be up to 14 days faster than the traditional route via the Suez Canal.
The trial passage will allow Maersk to assess the feasibility of future trade through the Northern Sea Route. The northern hemisphere’s summer heatwave has melted Arctic sea ice to record low levels, presenting the opportunity for greater vessel traffic in the region.
It was revealed this week that the oldest and thickest sheets of Arctic sea ice, located north of Greenland, have started to break apart for the first time in recorded history. However, a Maersk representative told the Financial Times that the company does not currently plan to use the route as an alternative to its existing network.
Venta Maersk will reportedly run on ultra low sulphur fuel oil during its Arctic passage. When news of the voyage first emerged, the non-profit environmental group Clean Arctic Alliance called for Maersk to commit to never using heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.
“By taking the lead in the Arctic, Maersk could lead a vanguard of companies shipping commercial goods that move towards clean and renewable forms of propulsion for shipping worldwide,” says the organization’s lead advisor, Sian Prior.
To date, the Northern Sea Route has been used to ship a few cargos of LNG from Siberia to China and Europe. In February, the tanker Eduard Toll became the first commercial vessel to ever complete an east-west Arctic crossing in winter. It sailed from Russia’s Yamal LNG plant to Montoir, France.