The first large cargo ship has crossed the Northwest Passage. The 225-metre long Nordic Orion carried a load of Teck Resources‘ coking coal from Vancouver bound for the Finnish port of Pori and steel maker Ruukki Metals.
The impenetrable – some might say elusive – Northwest Passage has been penetrated by a commercial vessel. The myths and tales about it will soon fade in the wake of economic progress. The mystical qualities of the Northwest Passage will be overshadowed by accurate ice records, digital imaging and measuring, and the ubiquitous GPS system.
The Northwest Passage was always a place of the unknown, something to be aspired to but impossible to know. This writer is sad to see the passing of a romantic notion, replaced with fact and measurable results. But the situation is made more acceptable to me by the news that the first big freighter to traverse the passage carried Canadian coal to market. I hope this is a boon to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
The opening of the Northwest Passage may well be a consequence of global warming or perhaps improved navigation and sturdier vessels. Using it can cut 1,000 nautical miles off the trip and save an estimated $80,000 in fuel, compared with using the Panama Canal. This does not make it an easy voyage. Icebergs will remain a threat, and the shipping season will always be dependent on the weather.
For the Northwest Passage to reach its potential to handle 25% of the world’s cargo may take a decade. It’s a reality whose time is coming.