Wall Street Journal on October 29, 2014, reported that cargo shipping volume through the Northern Sea Route is rising as Arctic ice melts, according to a new report. Excerpts below:

The opening up of the Arctic for commercial cargo offers a faster route for some shipments between Europe and Asia, and holds the promise of increased trade for once icebound ports in the High North of Arctic countries such as Russia, Norway and Canada.

However, much of the new traffic through the Northern Sea Route is one-way shipments of fossil fuels from Northern Europe to Asia or is between Russian ports, according to a report to be released by the Arctic Institute, a Washington think tank.

The institute said 71 ships carried 1.35 million tons of goods through the route last year. That was up from 46 vessels with 1.26 million tons of cargo the previous year.

The majority of ships originated in Russia and many were from one Russian port to another in the country. Only 41 vessels traveled the full length of the Arctic shipping lane, and of those, 30 ships carried cargo, the report said.

The Arctic Institute report analyzed data from the Northern Sea Route Information Office, which is run by the Norway’s nonprofit Centre for High North Logistics.

The route, also known as the Northeast Passage, hugs Russia’s northern border and typically is easier to navigate and has less ice buildup than the Northwest Passage, another Arctic route that gets fewer ships and lies closer to Canada. Both routes are only traversable during a short season from late summer to early fall before freezing up again, though that season has lengthened because of climate change.

Of the international cargo-bearing voyages using the Northern Sea Route, the Arctic Institute’s report said 67% involved shipments oil products. More goods were shipped from Europe to Asia than the other way around, with more ballast than cargo heading from Asia to Europe, it said.

That Arctic route shaves close to two weeks off a typical voyage from China to Europe—a trip that usually requires sailing through the Suez Canal.

Last year, a coal-laden cargo ship became the first bulk carrier to traverse the Northwest Passage through Canadian Arctic waters. That journey cut four days of travel time from a trip between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Pori, Finland.

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