First things first, when talking about Arctic shipping, firstly, we need to define the area we are talking about : Arctic is considered the Polar Region north of Arctic Circle, (the 66° 33 parallel) including two shipping roads: the Northern Sea Route (NSR) the one close to Russia shore and the Northwest Passage (NWP) close to the Canadian Shore. According to traffic statistics prior to 2010 there was no commercial traffic in the region, however due to climate change, there has been a substantial change leading to 71 transits for the 2013 season. Shorter roads are making these transits more attractive as distances may be shorter 1,000 miles or more on the NWP or 3,500 miles on the NSR as it may be seen in relevant figure:


Historic Firsts in Arctic Shipping

  1. First foreign ship to transit NSR: Heavy lifts MV Foresight & MV Fraternity operated by Beluga Shipping Group in 2009
  2. Largest tanker to cross NSR: MV Baltica (100,000 DWT) operated by Sovcomflot
  3. First foreign ship to cross the NSR: MV Nordic Barents operated by Nordic Bulk carriers
  4. First passenger ship to transit NSR: Russian state owned Georg Ots
  5. First Suezmax Supertanker through NSR: MV Vladimir Thikonov (162,000 DWT) operated by Sovcomflot.
  6. First Commercial ship carrying cargo to transit NWP : Nordic Orion operated by Nordic Bulk Carriers and Seamar Management S.A.

The North West Passage Historic First

Nordic Orion an ICE Class 2011 OSHIMA 75,600  DWT purpose built started her voyage from Vancouver, Canada and reached her destination at the Port of Pori, Finland through NWP

obtaining all permits and tug assistance carrying out a thorough transit Risk Assessment and carrying all the necessary certificates. Achievements claimed by operators include additional cargo capacity in excess of 15,000 tons bypassing Panama Canal; more than 200,000$ fuel savings; 1,000 NM shorter route; 25% less fuel consumption and 25% less CO2 emissions.

Importance of the Arctic in Global Economy

  1. Arctic is a resources rich area and contributes in Global Economy by contributing:
  2. 10 % of International Fishing
  3. Significant part of Global Marine Tourism industry
  4. Significant part of Hard Minerals ~ Palladium (40%), Nickel (22%), Diamonds (20%), Platinum (15%), Zinc (10%)
  5. Hydrocarbons with estimated Undiscovered Natural Gas (30%) & Oil (13%)
  6. Potential: Rare Earths (25%), Coal & Fresh Water

Regulatory Framework

There are four pillars of regulation in the Arctic :

  1. UNCLOS regarding definition of rights (territorial sea, EEZ etc)
  2. SOLAS regarding Safety and Construction of the vessels
  3. MARPOL regarding Pollution prevention
  4. STCW regarding certification and Training of Seafarers

Currently IMO is developing a Polar Code planned for implementation by 2016 designed to structured similarly to ISPS & STCW with sections A for Mandatory issues and B for recommendations having two key sections:

  1. Section I on Safety Measures (Polar Water Operational Manual, Ship structure stability and subdivision, Watertight/weathertigt integrity, Machinery installations, Operational Fire Navigational and personal safety, communication, Voyage planning etc)
  2. Section II on Pollution Prevention similar to MARPOL (Oil, NLS, harmful substances in packaged form , Sewage, garbage, Air Emissions etc.)


IMO is working on Classification of Ships able to operate in Polar Regions in three categories


Uncertainties and challenges in the Arctic

Uncertainties include the developments of the climate change making possibly the Arctic a fully navigable area by 2100, sovereignty claims, oil prices trading, a possible arctic shipping disaster, limited windows of economics operation, transit fees, new resource discoveries and insurance industry engagement in the long run as insurers are not happy insuring anything above 70 north at the moment

On the other hand, we face challenges as well, such as sovereignty claims leading to maritime disputes, trade growth in bigger numbers - the 71 transits that we have so far is an extremely low figure, but imagine what will happen in the future; in case of 5,000 - 10,000 transits per year it may be the new Panama Canal ! Furthermore investment plans have been released for a possible deep water port in Alaska and also investments in ships, as a Polar ship is very expensive to build and subsequently to operate. Challenges also include developing common standards in the Arctic vs state laws, IMO Polar Code finalization and implementation, possible ban of HFO in the Arctic, SAR, pollution prevention, maritime surveillance, hydrographic and ice charting etc.

Despite the many challenges, opportunities exist in the Arctic so despite what today's status and the fact some of the above may look improbable, the future is coming fast in many ways !


Above article is an edited version of Apostolos Belokas presentation during 2014 GREEN4SEA Forum

More details may be found by viewing his Presentation video


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