A.P. Moeller-Maersk has announced it will launch its first container ship through the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as part of its exploration into moving trade through the arctic.
The 3,600 TEU ‘Venta Maersk,’ which will be accompanied by an icebreaker, will leave Vladivostok in eastern Russia this week and is due to arrive in St Petersburg by the end of September in a one-off trial passage.
It is one of a new class of container ships that are built with stronger hulls, designed specifically for harsh winter conditions.
The NSR stretches from the Bering Strait between Russia and the US along the Siberian coast to the North Sea.
It has the potential to reduce voyage times from 37 days to 19, according to Arctic Bulk AG, a venture that explores the potential of arctic shipping.
According to Arctic Bulk, the distance between Europe and China could be 40% shorter than travelling through the Suez Canal.
In July 2018, the Christophe de Margerie, a Russian Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) carrier, became the first vessel to cross the NSR without an icebreaker.
Maersk has insisted it does not currently see the NSR as an alternative to its usual routes due to the annual three-month window of suitable ice melt that allows shipping to take place.
In a statement to Port Technology, Maersk said: “We plan new services according to our customers’ demand, trading patterns, and population centres. That said, we do follow the development of the Northern Sea Route.
“Today, the passage is only feasible for around three months a year which may change with time. Furthermore, we also must consider that ice-classed vessels are required to make the passage, which means an additional investment. The passage is feasible around this time of the year, marked by a lack of obstructive ice.
“The trial will offer us a unique opportunity to gain operational experience in a new area and to test vessel systems, crew capabilities and the functionality of the shore based support setup.”