The bulk carrier Nordic Orion
, loaded with metallurgical coal in Vancouver, British Columbia, completed a successful voyage through the Northwest Passage earlier this week.
The Norway-based Bellona Foundation said the ship is transporting 73,000 tons of met coal to a steelmaker in Finland.
While increasing numbers of ships are sailing through the Arctic Sea along Russia's northern coast, they have not been transiting via the Canadian Arctic. In fact, the Nordic Orion
's voyage appears to be the first passage by a large commercial ship since the oil tanker SS Manhattan
conducted a voyage in 1969 to test the feasibility of delivering oil between Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the U.S. East Coast.
Sigurd Enge, Bellona’s senior advisor on Arctic affairs, warned these transits pose "an enormous risk to the environment and set a highly detrimental precident." Northwest Passage opponents say vessels and their crews face inadequate navigation charts, hazards from ice and lack of emergency services.
Enge said soot from the exhaust of heavy oil used in ship engines eliminates the benefits of choosing a shorter route.
“Soot in Arctic waters have a proven effect on the accelerated melting (the Polar Icecap). Chosing shorter routes is therefore solely for profit at the expense of the environment and the climate. This form of risk transfer is the last thing the Arctic needs now,” he said.
By sailing through the Northwest Passage, the coal carrier was able to trim about 1,000 nautical miles from the usual route through the Panama Canal. It was also able to carry about 25 percent more coal, said Canada's Globe and Mail.