WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Rising commercial shipping through the Arctic as polar ice declines poses a threat of collisions and groundings as vessels pass through Bering Strait, the US Coast guard said in a report on Monday.
"Commercial shipping through the Arctic is growing, including a doubling of cargo tonnage transported on the NSR [Northern Sea Route]," the report said. "These routes require access through the relatively narrow and shallow Bering Strait, increasing the risk of a grounding or collision during peacetime and of the strait becoming a strategic choke point during times of conflict."
Also,the number of cruise ships, ranging in capacity from 150 to 1,700 passengers, continues to rise dramatically, from 120 per year in 2008 to 290 in 2016, the report said.
At the same time, ice flows become more difficult to predict as open water increases. For example, no cruise ships could transit the Northwest Passage in the summer of 2018, the report adds.
The US Coast Guard also noted that the United States is the only nation bordering the Arctic that has failed to invest in ships capable of navigating through heavy ice.
"This limits the ability of the Coast Guard, and the Nation, to credibly uphold sovereignty or respond to contingencies in the Arctic," the report said.
According to the General Accountability Office, the US Coast Guard and Navy are planning to invest up to $9.8 billion to build and maintain three heavy polar icebreakers, with the first ship scheduled for delivery in 2023.