A specially-built LNG tanker has this month become the first vessel to travel through the Northern Sea Route without being escorted by an icebreaker.
The vessel, named the Christophe de Margerie, was specially designed with a reinforced hull, enabling it to cut through thick ice.
Operated by Russian shipping company Sovcomflot, the ship carried gas from Hammerfest in Norway to Boryeong in South Korea.
Not only was it the first ship to travel the route without an icebreaker, it also set the record for the fastest traverse of the route, at just 6 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes.
The total time for the entire voyage was 19 days, representing a time saving of approximately 30% when compared to the more traditional route through the Suez Canal.
The ship is the first of a series of similar ice-breaking tankers designed to take LNG from a new gas project on the Yamal peninsula in Siberia.
The Northern Sea Route – a future shipping superhighway
This groundbreaking voyage by the Christophe de Margerie goes one step further towards demonstrating the viability, and the economic benefits of the Northern Sea Route.
This route runs from Northern Europe, along the coastline of Russian Siberia, before turning south through the Bering Strait towards East Asia.
For much of the year, this route is impassable, due to the thick build up of sea ice along certain stretches of the Russian coast.
Global warming, however, is rapidly reducing the extent of the Arctic’s sea ice, which means that with every passing year, the window that the Northern Sea Route remains open, grows ever longer.
This fact, combined with new technology and ship designs, such as that employed by the Christophe de Margerie will lead to a growing number of ships to take this route.
Primarily, ships that can get through are able to save time, and thus fuel and money, something highly important in a shipping industry surviving on ultra-thin margins.
Environmentalists, however, worry that opening the area up to shipping will irreparably damage the area’s ecosystem, which has so far felt little impact from human activity.