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MELTING ICE OPENING A FABLED TRADE ROUTE

New York Times

MOSCOW - For centuries, mariners have dreamed of an Arctic shortcut that would allow them to speed trade between Asia and the West. Two German ships are poised to complete that transit for the first time, aided by the retreat of Arctic ice that scientists link to global warming.

The ships started their voyage in South Korea in late July and will begin the last leg this week, leaving a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands carrying construction materials.

Russian ships have long moved goods along the country's Arctic coastline. Two tankers, one Finnish and the other Latvian, hauled fuel between Russian ports using the route, which is variously called the Northern Sea Route or the Northeast Passage.

But the Russians hope the transit of the German ships will inaugurate the entire passage as a reliable route, and that the combination of melting ice and economic benefits of the shortcut - which trims thousands of miles off various southerly routes - will eventually make the Arctic passage a summer competitor with the Suez Canal.

"It is global warming that enables us to think about using that route," said Verena Beckhusen, a shipping company spokeswoman.

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