Saturday

20th Oct 2018

First containership goes north of Russia from Asia to Europe

  • Venta Maersk in South Korea before venturing into the North East Passage (Photo: Kwak Dongmin / marinetraffic.com)

A brand new ice-strengthened containership is heading straight into the annals of maritime history. As the first containership ever Venta Maersk is on its way through the still ice-plagued North East passage north of Russia from Asia to Europe.

Venta Maersk belongs to Seago Line, a shipping company owned by Denmark's A.P. Moller Maersk A/S, the world's largest container-shipping agency.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The seas north of Russia are still covered by heavy ice in winter - here, the North Sea Passage is marked in blue, the conventional sea route through the Suez Canal in red (Photo: Wikimedia)

A leading expert on the North East Passage, professor Frederic Lasserre at Universite Laval in Quebec, Canada, told EUobserver that more shipping companies are presently contemplating using the North East Passage for container traffic.

"I believe Maersk - like the Chinese shipping companies and Japanese MOL - is exploring exactly what the costs are and what kind of market they can tap into," he said.

A few years ago many shipping experts all but ruled out containers in the North East Passage.

The seas north of Russia are still covered by heavy ice in winter, the passage is too shallow for the largest containerships, Russian fees for transit, ice-pilots and ice-breaker escorts are steep - but climate change is offering new perspectives.

"In the last two-three years the ice melt in summer has been so extensive that developments are getting very hard to predict. I will not rule our that some shipping agencies may reach the necessary level of flexibility so that they can offer regular container service in the North East Passage during summer within the next ten years," said Lasserre.

The main point for Maersk and other shipping agencies is that the route from Northern Asia to Europe north of Russia is substantially shorter than if their ships travel south of India and through the Suez canal.

Depending on their exact point of departure and destination cargo ships may shorten their route between Europe and northern China, Japan or South Korea by up to 40 percent if they go through the North East Passage.

As the Chinese shipping agency COSCO wrote already in 2013: "Enormous expenditures on fuel, canal transit, security guard, personnel and vessel wear and tear can be saved".

One of seven

After a stop in Vladivostok on Russia's east coast Venta Maersk on 1 September ventured up through the Bering Strait separating the northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean from the Arctic Ocean and then into the North East Passage.

The first stop in Europe, in Bremerhaven, Germany, is expected to take place in late September before Venta Maersk continues to St Petersburg, Russia.

Venta Maersk is one of seven ice-strengthened containerships that Maersk is currently having built in China.

The ships are 200 metres long, 35.2 metres wide and capable of shipping 3,600 containers, six metres long, through one metre of ice.

The ships are among the largest ice-strengthened container ships ever built and destined, according to Maersk, to a work-life primarily in the Baltic Sea.

The inner Viking

A.P. Moller Maersk is carefully trying to contain any hype kicked up by Venta Maersks routing. No-one from the company's higher ranks are available for comment. All media requests are met with the a written statement which labels the project as a "one-off trial passage".

"The trial passage will enable us to explore the operational feasibility of container shipping through the Northern Sea Route and to collect data. Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial alternative to our existing network which is defined by our customers' demand, trading patterns and population centres," the statement says.

Like professor Lasserre, other expert observers also see Venta Maersk's journey in light of growing Asian interest.

"Venta Maersk is a signal to COSCO, who has been the most active player in the North East Passage," says a Danish industry source, who askedfor anonymity.

"Maersk illustrates that they are ready for it and that they have the ships for it. This is about being prepared. Maersk has found its inner Viking. They do not any longer focus only on growth and on reducing costs but also look offensively at new opportunities," this source told EUobserver.

Increased political instability in the world also plays a role, he thinks: "In such a situation it is good commercial thinking to be first-movers. There is war on the Horn of Africa where we had the pirate challenge. We have seen terrorist groups block the Suez canal. The Strait of Mallaca may also quickly turn into a bottleneck. In this state of affairs it might be really nice to have an alternative like the North East Passage, if everything else closes".

No-one in the industry expects the North East Passage to ever rival the route through the Suez canal as the main artery for cargo between Europe and Asia, but many now see the North East Passage as a potentially important niche for the industry.

In the first eight months of this year, cargo traffic in the North East passage, including exports from Russia and cargo in transit between Asia and Europe, surpassed the amount of cargo shipped in 2017 by 80 percent, according to Norwegian newsportal HighNorthNews.

Since 2013, COSCO, the Chinese shipping company, has systematically increased its use of the passage. From Janurary to August this year, COSCO sent 12 cargo ships from Asia to Europe via the North East Passage or as many as in the whole of 2017.

Norway defends new Arctic oil drilling

Norway's oil and gas is "extremely important" for Europe's energy supply, oil minister says, rejecting calls to stop drilling to prevent global warming.

Focus

Greenland votes with eye on independence

Six out of seven political parties running in Greenland's parliamentary elections on Tuesday are pro-independence, but they disagree on how fast the last ties to Copenhagen should be cut. Increasing dependence on China could be the consequence.

Opinion

MEPs demand more from EU on human rights in Asia

On Thursday and Friday, heads of state of 51 Asian and European countries will be in Brussels for a summit with the EU. As MEPs, we denounce the fact that many countries around the table are major human rights violators.

Europe and Asia seek stable relations in troubled times

Covering two-third of the world's economic output and governing more than half of the world's population, the Europe and Asian leaders' summit in Brussels on Friday tests potentials for outlining a post-Trump world order.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia MPs back name deal in initial vote
  2. EU to open trade talks with US on beef
  3. EU court orders Poland to suspend firing judges
  4. Japan to focus on circular economy at G20
  5. Italian budget 'significant deviation' from rules, says EU
  6. Podemos initiates debate on legalising marijuana in Spain
  7. Merkel: Focus on banking union at December EU summit
  8. Scotland confirms mad cow disease case

Russian activist warns on 'fake news' as EU backs action

In 2015, internet activist Lyudmila Savchuk went under cover to expose a troll factory in St Petersburg. As the EU summit endorses anti-disinformation action, she told EUobserver the Russian government is bankrolling many more.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Latest News

  1. What Italy's budget row is actually about
  2. EU preparing 'concentration camps' for migrants in Africa
  3. Poland to respect EU injunction on judicial purge
  4. EU votes on Facebook and plastic This WEEK
  5. Top EU banks guilty of multi-billion tax fraud
  6. Polish left a glimmer of hope in fight against illiberal democracy
  7. Europe and Asia seek stable relations in troubled times
  8. Asylum reforms derailed, as EU looks to north Africa

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us