Voyage cuts 20 days off traditional Europe-Asia route via Suez Canal
The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012
LONDON - A large tanker transporting liquefied natural gas is set to become the first ship of its kind to sail across the Arctic.
The Ob River, capable of carrying 150,000 cubic metres of gas, left Norway earlier this month. It has sailed north of Russia and is due to arrive in Japan early next month, BBC News reported.
Its route through the Arctic will cut 20 days off its journey, compared with the traditional Suez Canal route, taken by most ships going from Europe to Asia.
Shipping lanes through the Arctic, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), have become increasingly accessible as ice cover melts to record lows.
The tanker's owners say changing climate conditions and a volatile gas market make the Arctic transit profitable, the BBC said.
The carrier has a strengthened hull, and was loaded with liquefied natural gas at Hammerfest, in northern Norway, on Nov7, before setting sail across the Barents Sea.
With its 40-strong crew, the Ob River was chartered from its Greek owners Dynagas by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, the BBC said. Preparations for the voyage began over a year ago.
Mr Tony Lauritzen, commercial director of Dynagas, said plying the newly accessible Arctic route could save time and money. "You are able to reach a highly profitable market by saving 40per cent of the distance. That is 40per cent less fuel used as well," he said.
Some analysts have raised concerns that if the Arctic route becomes easier to use, it could draw shipping trade away from Singapore, which benefits from vessels passing through the traditional Suez Canal and Malacca Strait route on their way to Northern Asia.
But Mr Gunnar Sander, senior adviser at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said the matter should be kept in perspective.
"Nineteen thousand ships went through the Suez Canal last year; around 40 went through the Northern Sea Route. There is a huge difference," he said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a posting on his Facebook page last night, said it was hard to predict how the Ob River voyage would affect ports like Singapore in the long term.
He also disclosed that Singapore was seeking observer status on the Arctic Council, an inter-governmental forum to promote cooperation among Arctic states including Finland, Canada, Russia and the United States.