The Chinese ice breaker Xuelong
, or Snow Dragon
, has become the first ship from China to cross the Arctic Ocean, signaling a growing interest into new shipping lanes and routes opening due to climate shifts.
sailed from the Pacific to Atlantic via the Arctic along the Russian coast. It docked in Iceland after having sailed the “Northern Sea Route” from the Pacific, an onboard scientist named Egill Thor Nielsson told the AFP
''This is the first Chinese ship to sail this route and of course it is important because it's a more than 40 percent shorter route to Europe,'' he said.
The crew described the route as relatively safe and easy, which means there may be ships following once the country and its companies purchase or lease more ice breakers. The Xuelong
, purchased from the Ukraine in 1993, is likely China’s only ice breaker. The country is believed to have contracts for new ice breakers currently being built.
Huigen Yang, head of the Polar Research Institute of China, told Reuters
he expected more ice along the route than the vessel encountered. Yang said most of the Northern Sea Route is open, and called the journey part of China’s interest in the "monumental change" taking place in the Arctic.
Climate change is credited with opening the prospect of commercial shipping via the Northern Sea Route, as 34 ships made the journey last year as opposed to just four in 2010. The sea ice in the area is at its smallest yearly in September, after which it expands as winter arrives, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute.
China’s interest here can be attributed both to energy and trade opportunities. The shorter route which may be opened longer as the years pass would be a strong economic boon for the country. On the energy side, China has become the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and its energy appetite is growing rapidly.
The Northern Sea Route not only offers an opportunity to have shipping operations produce less greenhouse gas emissions, but also opens up new areas for oil drilling. China would not only be interested in the oil found, but also supplying the equipment to do the actual testing and drilling. - Geoff Whiting