Arctic sea route not possible even if it is ice free: Finnish official

A 2008 file photo of Baffin Bay, near the Arctic Circle.   | Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward

Contrary to popular belief that the melting ice in the Arctic would open up alternate shipping routes, a senior Finnish official said it would still not be an easily navigable route. He also called for a greater Indian role in the region as an observer in the Arctic Council.

“Even if the Arctic becomes ice free, the Northern sea route will not be an easily navigable route anytime soon. It will not be practical for container traffic, it may be ok for bulk carriers carrying gas. But it is containers which constitute the major traffic,” Rene Soderman, Senior Arctic Official in the Finland ministry for foreign affairs told The Hindu. Finland is holding the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 2017-19.

He explained that despite no ice, the waters would be tough to navigate due to sub-zero temperatures and would pose serious challenges to ships effecting their movement and schedules which carries a premium in container traffic.

Arctic region which has permanently frozen ice is melting at an increasing rate due to global warming and is expected to be ice free by 2060.

Already several countries have sent their ships and ice breakers in the summer months to demonstrate the navigability and countries like China and Japan are investing in infrastructure development. It is seen as an alternate shipping route to cut time and costs and also circumvent the global choke points.

India’s role

Mr. Soderman who held discussions with several officials in the Government welcomed greater Indian role especially in renewing commitment to climate change and environmental protection.

There is increasing concern in India as China makes inroads in the strategically important Arctic region which has large amount untapped minerals and fossil fuels.

Arctic Council is currently formulating a long term strategy for action looking into the 2030’s based on its founding charter. “This is the first time the council is trying to see what it can do in the long term. Hopefully the strategy will be adopted by the ministerial council in May next year,” Mr. Soderman said.

Arctic council which is an intergovernmental organisation has eight member states, six independent permanent participating organisations and observers which are non-Arctic states like India and China.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 7:19:18 AM |

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