The container/cargo ship Norilskiy Nickel moves stern-first through Arctic ice. Built by Norway-based Aker Yards ASA
for the Russian mining company Norilsk Nickel, this double-acting vessel features a stern constructed like the bow of
an icebreaker for travel through ice. In open waters, it travels like a traditional vessel.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Secondly, so-called double-acting ships offer a technological solution to Arctic shipping only recently available.
These ships have strengthened hulls, azimuth pod propulsion technology and sterns that are constructed like the
bow on an icebreaker. The ships travel in open water
much like traditional vessels, but in ice the azimuth pods
rotate so they travel stern-first and function as icebreakers.
Finally, Mead cited globalization and the increasing
demand for fast, reliable, economically sound and
environmentally friendly shipping as propelling shippers toward considering trans-Arctic shipping routes
over traditional ones.
“If we don’t get to trans-Arctic shipping in the next decade or so, I’ll owe a lot of people steak dinners,” he said.
Barrett, too, said technology plays a vital role in
opening Arctic sea lanes.
A part of his role at the Department of Transportation
is co-chairing the Space-Based Positioning, Navigation
and Timing Committee with Gordon England, the
deputy secretary of defense. The committee is working
on policy relating to the Global Positioning System and
other global navigation satellite systems.
“Precision navigation is more important in the Arctic
than elsewhere. It gives mariners a much clearer picture
of the ice hazards they face, hazards that may lie hidden
beneath the surface and may shift,” Barrett said. “But
while precision navigation is more important in the
Arctic, it’s also more challenging. The satellite coverage
that forms the backbone of precision navigation is less
robust in polar regions than it is in lower latitudes.”
Barrett also said attention needs to be paid to infrastructure to support Arctic shipping such as ports, rail
heads, landing strips and search-and-rescue capability.
For now, most experts agree the most likely scenario
is that shrinking polar ice will make many of the
Arctic’s natural resources more readily available for
extraction, with commercial shipping tasked to carry
those resources to global markets. This already is happening and is likely to grow as the ice recedes.
Thomas H. Paterson, a vice president at Fednav Ltd.,
a Canadian dry bulk shipper that is shipping ore out of
the Arctic, said that when touting the merits of trans-Arctic shipping, people only talk about how many miles
or days shorter the transit through the Arctic would be.
“Nobody does the math,” he told Seapower. “I’m
skeptical of the economics of [trans-Arctic shipping].”
Paterson, a self-described “realist” about trans-Arctic
shipping, said the cost of a bulk ship that was built with
basic ice protection for the summer months would be
inhibitive and that outfitting a ship to handle the ice
year-round would be prohibitive.
He also doubted a ship leaving New York and headed
to Shanghai through the Northwest Passage would
arrive any sooner than another ship that went the traditional way through the Panama Canal, noting the potential for bad weather and floating ice that would cause the
Arctic-bound ship to slow down in order to be safe.