German ships successfully make "Arctic Passage"

LONDON (Reuters) - Two German cargo ships have successfully navigated across Russia’s Arctic-facing northern shore from South Korea to Siberia without the help of icebreakers, the shipping company said.

The two merchant ships belonging to Beluga Shipping Gmbh were able to make the cost-saving voyage by the fabled Northeast Passage because of the reduction in the polar ice cap due to global warming, the company said.

“We are all very proud and delighted to be the first Western shipping company which has successfully transited the legendary Northeast Passage and delivered the sensitive cargo safely through this extraordinarily demanding sea area,” Niels Stolberg, president and CEO of Beluga, said in a statement on the company’s website.

The ships are carrying a cargo of “heavy plant modules,” said the company statement, dated Sept 9.

The “Beluga Fraternity” and “Beluga Foresight” left the Russian port of Vladivostok with cargo picked up in July in South Korea, bound for Holland.

They dropped anchor at the Siberian port of Yamburg on Monday, Beluga said.

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The Northern Sea Route trims 4,000 nautical miles off the usual 11,000-mile journey via the Suez Canal, which Beluga has said would yield substantial savings in fuel costs and reductions in CO2 emissions.

The company got Russian authorities’ clearance to send the first non-Russian commercial vessels through the route in August.

“Russian submarines and icebreakers have used the Northern Route in the past but it wasn’t open for regular commercial shipping before now because there are many areas with thick ice,” Stolberg told Reuters in an email interview at that time.

“It was only last summer that satellite pictures revealed that the ice is melting and a small corridor opened which could enable commercial shipping through the Northeast Passage -- if all the circumstances were right and the requirements were met.”

Stolberg said Beluga was eager to send ships through the northern route last summer during a six- to eight-week “window” in August and September when temperatures in the region rise to 20 degrees Celsius or more to open a corridor in the ice.

Editing by Jerry Norton