After 4 centuries, a dream comes true
ROTTERDAM – The arrival of the first Chinese cargo ship to sail through the Arctic Ocean above Russia to Rotterdam fulfills a Dutch dream that’s more than 400 years old. On Sept. 10, the Yong Sheng tied up in Rotterdam carrying cranes for that port’s offshore expansion. The month-long, 4,500-kms trip shaved 2 weeks off the traditional Suez Canal route.
The melting of arctic ice is opening new waters that until recently could only be accessed by nuclear icebreakers. Still the Port of Rotterdam expects only limit cargo traffic through the northern route as there remains much ice which makes the northern waters not reliable. Still, so far this year 430 vessels were allowed to cross the Arctic Sea above Russia, up from 4 in 2010.
Finding that northern passage was long a gleam in the eye of Willem Barentsz, a 16th century Dutch explorer. And it always remained that. Barentsz made 3 northern voyages finding many islands, polar bears and the Novaya Zemlya Effect (a polar mirage caused by high refraction of sunlight) but no passage to Asia. He died at sea in 1597 after a grueling arctic winter on land.
Companies like Maersk , Cosco and Toyota, Nissan still tend to favor the Suez Canal route. In 2012, 1.3 million tons of cargo was carried through the arctic route _ less than what goes through the Suez Canal in a day. Still by 2030, South Korea hopes 25% of its trade with Europe can take the arctic route. China counts on 15% of its container trade with Europe to go that way by 2020. Norway and Russia see the arctic route as ideal for transporting oil and gas. Recently, Greenpeace says Russia has stopped its icebreaker Arctic Sunrise from entering the Arctic Sea’s northern passage.