The worlds largest container ship operator the Maersk Line sent its small 3,600 container ship the VENTA MAERSK (Danish Flag, built 2018) from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg this summer via Russia's new High Arctic Passage. The route did save the ship 10 days on the transit compared with the traditional transit via the Suez Canal. Yet Maersk in a press release indicated that the company doesn't see the route "as an alternative to our usual routes."
Russia promotes the route as the shortest distance sea route between Asia and Europe, and a real rival for the Suez Canal route. Of course the Suez doesn't ice over for months on end. Al Gore not withstanding the Russian route is still ice bound most of the year. Yet traffic is increasing and not High Arctic destination traffic, real trans continental through traffic. Traffic increased in 2018 via ships with ice breaking capability including tankers and LNG carriers. The potential according to the Russian promoters could be enormous. Ninety eight percent of the worlds good shipped by sea are carried on container ships according to one Russian promoter. Unfortunately for Russia much of the Europe/ Asian trade is carried by container ships carrying 20,000 or more containers compared to the VENTA MARESK's 3,600. These giant ships don't do so well in the ice and the economics of their carrying capacity negate much of the need for shaving off time and fuel from the traditional Suez route.
When one of these giants gets into trouble it can be expensive and the Arctic route has no transshipment ports. If lighterage is ever required its not just the voyage profits that will be lost. This is a seasonal route suitable to specialized and smaller vessels. The greatest hope for increased traffic is an increasing inventory of vessels suitable for the route. That may happen but could take 20 years. Even then, global warming is not a sure bet and it is doubtful that the route will ever be available year round. We're advising our readers to utilize it as a seasonal alternative for certain suitable ships. Traffic will continue to increase a bit over time. Don't write off the Suez Canal yet. Sorry Bears.
in the WALL STREET JOURNAL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/shippings-new-arctic-routes-wont-thaw-cold-economic-reality-1537954385