The record reduction in Arctic pack-ice this year has created favorable conditions for year-long navigation along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in 2013, offering major savings to shipping operators, Russia’s Arctic Institute said on Wednesday.
The ice coverage in the Arctic reached its record minimum of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) in September, or almost half of the 1979 to 2000 average.
According to experts from the Arctic Institute, the NSR will be mostly covered with year-old ice, which melts down during the summer months.
“That is why navigation will be easy and reliable, without any problems for ships with a required ice class deployed on this route,” Vladimiir Sokolov, the head of Arctic-2012 expedition, told reporters in St. Petersburg.
With ice floe receding at a high rate, the prospect of a commercially viable Northern Sea Route looks increasingly likely, as it provides the shortest link between Northern Europe and the Far East.
For instance, the NSR cuts down the trip from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Yokohama in Japan by 3,900 nautical miles compared to the regular voyage via the Indian Ocean.
That shortens the duration of the trip from 33 to 20 days, increasing fuel efficiency and significantly reducing the cost of shipment.
In 2011, 34 vessels transported a total of 820,789 metric tons during the five months the route was open.
This year, 35 vessels transported a total of 1,022,577 tons of different goods between Europe and Asia so far, and the season is not yet over.
The estimated annual capacity of the Northern Sea Route is about 50 million metric tons of cargo.