China Wants its Vessels to Divert Via the Arctic's Northwest Passage

by Ship & Bunker News Team
Monday April 25, 2016

China is encouraging its vessels to utilise the Arctic's Northwest Passage, according to Chinese media reports, with the route along Canada's coastline significantly shorter than traditional routes through the Suez Canal.

To assist with voyage planning, China's Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) has released a 365 page navigation guide, the Chinese-language Arctic Navigation Guide (Northwest Passage).

"There will be ships with Chinese flags sailing through this route in the future," said Liu Pengfei, a government spokesperson, adding that "once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transportation and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow, and resource exploitation."

As previously reported by Ship & Bunker, such a shift in traffic would also have a corresponding shift in ports' bunker demand. 

Wu Yuxiao, a MSA senior official and one of the guide's authors, says the cost-saving route is of strategic importance to China, noting that "as sea ice has declined due to global warming, Arctic navigation has increasing possibilities. That's why we need guidance for ships with the Chinese flag."

"Many countries have noticed the financial and strategic value of Arctic Ocean passages," said Wu, adding that "China has also paid much attention."

It is, however, generally accepted that mass use of Arctic routes is still a long way off.

Such routes still pose a huge risk to seafarers, largely due to the region's harsh and unpredictable climate, and Wu notes that the current lack of infrastructure to support shipping in the region makes Arctic transportation more challenging.

However, Doug Matthews, an advocate for Tuktoyaktuk's development as a deep water port, in response to the reports, has told Canadian media that "there are infrastructure challenges, but the more the shipping industry expresses an interest in traffic, the more the pressure will build on Canada to deal with that deficit."

Last week, Ship & Bunker reported that environmental group Pacific Environment had issued a call for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to put a ban on HFO use in the Arctic as part of last week's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting.