It is reported that last year ships conducted ships made 2,694 voyages on the Northern Sea Route. The trade is driven by commodities producers – mainly in Russia, China and Canada – sending iron ore, oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other fuels through Arctic waters.

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown and impact on the shipping industry, navigation through Arctic waters has not been prevented; Specifically, vessels made 935 voyages in the first half of 2020, up to the end of June, compared with 855 in the same period last year, the data shows.

LNG tankers hold the largest proportion of the traffic on the NSR, as they alone burned 239,000 tonnes of fuel in 2019, versus only 6,000 tonnes in 2017, according to previously unpublished data collected by the non-profit International Council on Clean Transportation.

The Northern Sea Route is about 6,000 nautical miles shorter than sailing via Africa, and 2,700 nautical miles shorter than sailing through the Suez Canal.

That shortcut led ships to make the 2,694 voyages in 2019, up from 2,022 in 2018, 1,908 in 2017 and 1,705 in 2016, according to Nord University’s Centre for High North Logistics. Those trips are made each year by just 200-300 ships.

Yet, this year's unusual warm weather over northern Russia caused an early retreat of sea ice from Siberia. By the second half of July, the route was open for ships to sail due to the heat wave, marking the earliest complete thaw of that area yet recorded, scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center say.