News / Europe

Icebergs, Insurance Hamper Top of the World Shipping Route

The town of Ny-Aalesund in Norway's high Arctic as seen from the top of the nearby Zeppelin mountain, May 28, 2013.The town of Ny-Aalesund in Norway's high Arctic as seen from the top of the nearby Zeppelin mountain, May 28, 2013.
x
The town of Ny-Aalesund in Norway's high Arctic as seen from the top of the nearby Zeppelin mountain, May 28, 2013.
The town of Ny-Aalesund in Norway's high Arctic as seen from the top of the nearby Zeppelin mountain, May 28, 2013.
Reuters
The new shipping route opened up through the Arctic by climate change will not be crowded any time soon.

Cargoes of coal, diesel and gas have made the trip but high insurance costs, slow going and strict environmental rules mean there will not be a rush to follow them.

Looser ice means icebergs. One vessel has already been holed, and large ice breaking vessels, not always on hand, are a must.

“Significant safety and navigational concerns remain an obstacle to commercial shipping in the Northern Sea route, despite recent media reports of 'successful' transits,” said Richard Hurley, a senior analyst at shipping intelligence publisher IHS Maritime.

“AIS [ship]- tracking of vessels in the area shows all vessels are subject to deviation from direct routes as a result of ice, and many areas still cannot be navigated safely without the presence of large icebreakers able to provide assistance such as lead through to clearer waters.”

Last month, a dry bulk vessel carrying coal from Canada passed through the Northwest Passage to deliver a cargo to Finland, in a trip its operators said would save $80,000 worth of fuel and cut shipping time by a week.

The world's top oil trader Vitol brought tankers in October with Asian diesel to Europe via the Northern Sea route over Russia, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.

The fast-growing liquefied natural gas market, in which Arctic players like Russia and Norway play a big role, has also seen maiden Arctic voyages.

Hurley said the passage of the Yong Sheng cargo vessel in August from China to Europe via the Northern Sea was only possible with the aid of the world's largest nuclear powered icebreaker, 50 Let Pobedy, to get it through the Lapatev Sea. Ship tracking showed only four large icebreakers were available at any one time to cover the whole Northern sea route.

Separately, a small Russian oil products tanker was holed in September in the Kara Sea, also off Russia.

“Even though damage was minimal and did not cause a pollution incident, the holing revealed fragility of emergency help,” Hurley said. “Taken together, all the inherent dangers and concerns over potential Arctic pollution count heavily against time and cost savings alone when assessing the commercial viability of the seaway.”

Insurance and containers

The market is also still nascent for insurers.

“The key obstacle here will remain the insurance, as it's still simply too risky a proposition for standard commercial insurers,” said Michael Frodl of U.S.-based consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks, who advises insurers.

“The ships aren't ready, the support facilities and port infrastructure are not yet in place, and the risks haven't been figured out enough to price insurance correctly.”

Others say the commercial potential is unlikely to be viable for container ships, which transport consumer goods, partly as trade flows develop beyond China in coming decades towards other regions including Africa and South America.

“The further away global trade moves from a totally China-centric export pattern, the more a short 'polar' route looses its appeal,” said Jan Tiedemann, shipping analyst with consultancy Alphaliner.

“The Southern route - even if longer - will always have the advantage of serving numerous markets at the same time. Think of the Middle East. Think of transshipment via the [Malacca] Straits to Australia and New Zealand. Think of transshipment in Arabia for East Africa. Think of Med and Black Sea loops.”

Until recent years harsh weather conditions, which can drop to 40 to 50 degrees centigrade below zero, had limited Arctic shipping mostly to small freighters and ice-breakers that supplied northern communities in Canada, Norway or Russia.

According to French ship classification society Bureau Veritas, there were 40 Arctic route trading voyages in 2012 for all vessel classes including oil tankers, with around one million tons of cargo moved. That compared with 700 million tons transported through the Suez canal.

Knut Espen Solberg of Norwegian shipping and offshore classification group Det Norske Veritas, said dry bulk vessels carrying coal were best suited for Arctic shipping as the potential for environmental potential was less.

“Oil and container spills have a much bigger potential environmental impact than coal, so their shipping is likely to be restricted heavily,” said Solberg, a former Arctic mariner.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs