Northwest Passage likely to be unpopular shipping route despite summer ice-free state
While the record melting of the Arctic’s sea ice this summer fully opened up the Northwest Passage for the first time since records began, it turns out few shippers would actually use the route even if the summer opening became more reliable. The shortcut route would shave off some 4,700 nautical miles from a typical Europe-to-east-Asia shipping journey as compared to a trip via the Panama Canal. But the NW route is somewhat labyrinthine and shallower in spots than many are comfortable with for the huge cargo ships now typically used. “The Northwest Passage in its entirety has often been described at shipping conferences … as a rock pile. It’s very tricky navigation through most of it,” said Michael Gardiner of the Canadian Coast Guard. And then there are also thorny ownership issues; Canada claims much of the Northwest Passage as its own — something the United States currently disputes, arguing it’s an international route. But for those still prone to shortcuts, other top-o’-the-world shipping routes could eventually become viable, such as along the northern coast of Russia or over the North Pole.