Given the sophistication of today’s logistics systems,
shippers need to know exactly when cargo will be arriving. Quickly changing weather and shifting ice, common
in the Arctic year-round, could prompt delays that cause
ripple effects throughout a supply chain, he said, adding
that the insurance fees on the ship sailing north would be
substantially more than one transiting the Panama Canal.
And then there’s the maintenance factor. Even a small
dent caused by ice while traversing the Northwest Passage
would have to be repaired, which Paterson said would cost
at least 14 days of downtime, taking into account the waiting period for a dry dock and the actual repairs.
“[The owner of that ship has] blown half-a-million in
lost opportunity, and he’s still got to pay for the repairs,
which would probably be another $250,000, at least,” he
said. “No ship owner is going to take that risk.”
Paterson said what a lot of people do not understand
is that there is a big difference between “ice free” and
“open water.” “Ice free” means no ice at all, while “open
water” means less than 10 percent ice.
He said there would be very little of the Northwest
Passage that would be ice free, even in the summer
months, and that a chunk of ice the size of a small car
could cause significant damage to a ship.
“They’re like hitting reinforced concrete,” he said.
While discussion about the Northwest Passage dominated much of the conference, there also is the Northern
Sea Route over Russia. Those waters have less ice than
the Northwest Passage, but there are other concerns,
which, for now, are retarding the route’s development as
a viable alternative to the Suez Canal.
One shipper said the waters of the Northern Sea Route
have not been charted well enough and that Russian
transit fees are very high. The shipper also cited the
“questionable” political situation in Russia as cause for
concern for an industry that likes reliability.
The shipper added that while the Northern Sea
Route would cut down significantly on Asia-to-Europe
routes, it would not have much of an impact on routes
in and out of North America.
“Year-round, trans-Arctic shipping is not going to happen in my lifetime,” said Paterson. “The reward is not
there. The Northwest Passage is a destination to load and
discharge cargo. It will become a bigger destination.” ■