| OSLO, March 12
OSLO, March 12 A Chinese shipping firm is
planning the country's first commercial voyage through a
shortcut across the Arctic Ocean to the United States and Europe
in 2013, a leading Chinese scientist said on Tuesday.
Huigen Yang, director general of the Polar Research
Institute of China, told Reuters that the trip he led last year
on the icebreaker Xuelong, or Snowdragon, to explore the route
had "greatly encouraged" Chinese shipping companies.
"One commercial voyage by a Chinese shipping company may
take place this summer," he said.
For China, the world's No. 2 economy after the United
States, the route would save time and money. The distance from
Shanghai to Hamburg is 2,800 nautical miles (5,185 kms) shorter
via the Arctic than via the Suez Canal, Yang said.
Despite ice risks on a route that is opening because of
climate change, shipping as well as oil and gas exploration and
mining businesses are being drawn to the Arctic region.
Beijing sent the Xuelong across the Arctic Ocean to Iceland
last year, the first Chinese ship to use a route between the
Pacific and Atlantic Oceans that was used by almost 50
commercial vessels from other nations in 2012.
Yang showed delegates at a conference about the Arctic in
Oslo organised by The Economist magazine longer-term scenarios
under which between five and 15 percent of China's international
trade, mostly container traffic, would use the route by 2020.
Ten percent of China's projected trade by 2020, for
instance, would be worth $683 billion, he said. "If the route is
constructively prepared ... then the demand is there, it could
be a huge number," he said.
Ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank to a record low last
September since satellite observations began in the 1970s. Many
experts expect it will vanish in summers by mid-century due to
climate change caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
"We see a potential there but it will not be the new Suez
Canal," said Christian Bonfils, managing director of
Denmark-based Nordic Bulk Carriers which sent 10 ships through
the route in 2012 carrying products such as iron ore.
"You will not see a boom in the construction of ice-class
vessels - the season is too short," he said of a shipping season
that lasts from about July to November, referring to ships
needing specially hardened hulls.
Sergei Frank, head of Russia's Sovcomflot shipping company,
said that there had been a steady gain in the numbers of vessels
using the route in recent years.
"We expect a small rise this year," he said.
The thaw will also make it easier to reach remote regions in
the Arctic, without crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
That could mean more tourism on cruise ships and access to
coastal communities and minerals.
(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Louise