As Arctic Ice Melts, First Tanker Travels Across Top of the World

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The Arctic ice has become uneven enough, and thin enough, that a tanker has crossed over the area without the help of an ice cutter or other ships. Sovcomflot’s LNG carrier Christophe de Margerie completed the first commercial voyage, transporting liquefied natural gas, to go through the northern sea route from Norway to South Korea.

According to Sovcomflot:

During this voyage, the vessel set a new time record for an NSR transit of just 6 days 12 hours and 15 minutes. Moreover, Christophe de Margerie has also become the world’s first merchant vessel to travel the full length of the NSR without any icebreaker escort.

During her record-setting voyage, the LNG carrier covered 2,193 nautical miles (4,060 km) from Cape Zhelaniya of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago to Cape Dezhnev at Chukotka, Russia’s easternmost continental point.

The vessel again proved her ability to operate in harsh, high-latitude environments. Her average speed during the passage exceeded 14 knots, despite the fact that in some areas she had to sail through ice fields 1.2 metres thick.

Global warming almost certainly will open sea lanes hundreds of miles north of those that have been used for decades. This will cut the time and cost of moving cargo by sea. It also raises the question of which nations will own and regulate these sea lanes. Denmark, Russia, the United States, Canada and Norway all claim portions of the region, and some of those claims overlap.