Nordic Orion sails from Vancouver to Finland in a historic transit

The international shipping industry is these days witness to a historic event, when a vessel for the first time ever is sailing from Vancouver in Canada to Finland through Arctic waters. The bulk carrier MV Nordic Orion is using the North West Passage as a transit trade lane, when transporting coal from Vancouver in Canada to Finland. The historic transit is shorter than traditional shipping routes and will not only save time, fuel and CO2, but also increase the load of cargo with 25% compared to the Panama Canal.

With its ice cover changing and a bulk carrier set out to conquer it, the Northwest Passage is becoming a potentialviable route for commercial traffic. MV Nordic Orion will carry a cargo of 73,500 tons of coal via the so called North West Passage, through Arctic waters to Finland, which could make it the first commercial bulk carrier to traverse the route since the SS Manhattan broke through in 1969.

The two-year-old vessel left Vancouver on September 6 on a route planned with the Canadian authorities and coastguard. MV Nordic Orion is one of the world's few modern ice-class bulk carriers, managed bySeamar Management S.A, based in Athens, Greece.

Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard are monitoring the journey and the Nordic Orion is required to check in daily with Nordreg, a Coast Guard agency, Transport Canada said. The ship is scheduled to arrive in Pori, Finland, in early October.

For some routes, the Northwest Passage can save up to 7,000 kilometres and thats not just a distance savings, thats a savings in terms of fuel, time and salaries, said Michael Byers, an international law expert at the University of British Columbia, according to Global and Mail.

SSManhattan was an oil tanker constructed at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts that became the first commercial ship to cross the Northwest Passage in 1969, according to Wikipedia. The SS Manhattan, undertaken to test the viability of shipping oil from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, was repeatedly trapped by ice and the U.S. turned away from the idea and instead built a pipeline.

The North West Passage, after the latest ice cover changes and the advanced ship design available, is opening new prospects of commercial traffic.

Reducing time, fuel and CO2 emissions

The North West Passage across the Arctic is shorter than the traditional route through the Panama Canal and thereby has the potential to generate important saving in both time, fuel and CO2 emissions. Christian Bonfils, from Nordic Bulk Carriers A/S, explains "The North West Passage shortens the distance with 1.000 nautical miles. This results in a reduction in fuel consumption and transportation time - and it also means lower CO2 emissions. The fuel savings alone add up to approximately USD 80,000."

In addition this new route allows full utilisation of the ships capacity and thereby carries 25% more cargo than through the Panama Canal.

It takes more than an average ship to sail the North West Passage. The trip across the Arctic is a challenging task that requires great experience, navigational skills and modern world class ships. In fact, there are only a few vessels which can handle the task.

It is estimated that the North West Passage, which can be viewed in the picture below, will be open for transit voyages for approximately two months per year depending on the weather and ice conditions.


Nortwest Passage - Northern Sea Route

Image Source: The Global and Mail

Facts about the North West Passage


  • For the first time ever, a bulk carrier is using the North West Passage as a transit trade lane, when transporting coal from Vancouver in Canada to the port of Pori in Finland via the Arctic Sea.
  • The vessel departed from the port of Vancouver in Canada the 6th of September and will transport 73,500 tons of coal for the Finnish company Ruukki Metals Oy.
  • The North West Passage is more than 1.000 nautical miles shorter than the traditional shipping route through the Panama Canal and will save time, fuel and reduce CO2 emission but even more important increase the amount of cargo per transit with 25%. The fuel savings add up to approximately USD 80,000 and the ship carry 15.000 additional tons of coal and thereby utilising the full capacity of the ship compared to The Panama Canal, where the depth of the canal limits the size of ships and cargo.
  • The route is planned in close coordination with Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard to ensure a safe execution. The ship was issued an Arctic Pollution Prevention Certificate by Transport Canada before departure to ensure compliance with Canadian regulations.
  • The opening of the North West Passage as a commercially predictable trade lane opens up new opportunities for the important Arctic region and for the coal, minerals and shipping industries.
  • MV NORDIC ORION is an ice-class 1A ship. This is the highest conventional ice-class, and it is one of the only ships that can sail the route due to ice filed waters.
  • Facts about the ice bulkerMV NORDIC ORION

    • 75.603 Dead weight tons
    • Built in 2011 at Oshima Shipyard in Japan
    • Ice class 1A
    • 225 meter long
    • 18,420 break horse powers (normal non ice classed ships have 12,000 bhp)
    • Carry 73.500 tons of coal
    • Has a sister ship MV NORDIC ODYSSEY, which also has performed several Arctic trips andwas the first Panamax bulk carrier on the Northern Sea Route
    • Vessel Operator: Seamar Management S.A.