The Russian and Norwegian Arctic are gaining notoriety as an alternative maritime route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and as sources of natural resources. The renewed interest in the Northeast Passage or the Northern Sea Route is fueled by a recession of Arctic sea ice coupled with the discovery of new natural resources at a time when emerging and global markets are in growing demand for them. Driven by the expectation of potential future economic importance of the region, political interest and governance has been rapidly developing, mostly within the Arctic Council. However, this paper argues that optimism regarding the potential of Arctic routes as an alternative to the Suez Canal is overstated. The route involves many challenges: jurisdictional disputes create political uncertainties; shallow waters limit ship size; lack of modern deepwater ports and search and rescue (SAR) capabilities requires ships to have higher standards of autonomy and safety; harsh weather conditions and free-floating ice make navigation more difficult and schedules more variable; and more expensive ship construction and operation costs lessen the economic viability of the route. Technological advances and infrastructure investments may ameliorate navigational challenges, enabling increased shipping of natural resources from the Arctic to global markets.
The Arctic Institute’s Kathrin Keil and Andreas Raspotnik contributed to a new publication on commercial shipping through the Northeast Passage. The full article was published online in Polar Geography on 16 October 2014. To read the full version click here.
Thumbnail Photo Credit: The Arctic Institute