Bering Strait Shipping Route to Slash Voyage Times Between Asia and Europe

Polar Map Showing Permafrost Areas, Adapted From NOAA.gov Graphic

(Moscow Times – themoscowtimes.com – August 22, 2013) Traders that have been looking for the shortest route from Asia to Europe since the days of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot may have finally found it, though the way may be colder than expected and the cargo will probably consist of less silk and spices.

Yong Sheng, a 19,000 ton Chinese ship, will become the first container ship to travel through the Bering Strait and along Russia’s northern coast to reach its destination in the Netherlands, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The ship left the port of Dalian on Aug. 8 and should reach Europe in 35 days, shaving nearly two weeks off of the 48 days it would take to travel through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea, which is the current route.

Russian authorities have granted 393 permits this year to ships looking to use the northern shipping lane, called the Northeast Passage. Last year only 46 ships sailed the passage.

The 5,400-kilometer-route was had until recently been prohibitively expensive because traversing it required nuclear-powered icebreakers, but melting ice in the Arctic has opened it up from July to November.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said that Arctic ice now covers about 2,200 square kilometers, less than half of its area in 1979.

Problems along the current southern route, like Indian Ocean pirates and political upheaval in Egypt, have also made alternatives increasingly attractive.

China has increasingly become interested in the polar region and in May became a permanent observer at the Arctic Council, the area’s eight-member governing body.