EXPLORERS TRIED for centuries to find a viable route through the Arctic to link Europe and Asia. ss Vega was the first to transit the north-east passage connecting the two, in 1879, but it was only in 1932 that a ship—the icebreaker A. Sibiryakov—made the trip in one go, without having to stop for the winter. What little commercial shipping there was along the route all but vanished after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The discovery and extraction of vast liquefied natural gas (LNG) reserves on the Yamal peninsula in Siberia in the past decade has renewed interest in bulk transport on the waters of the high north. The warming of the Arctic, and the development of ice-strengthened tankers able to cleave their way through floes up to two metres thick, now make it possible to ship gas and other materials year-round, though especially cold winters may still hinder traffic.
In January this year, thanks to a rise in Asian economic activity and high consumer demand, it was profitable for three vessels carrying LNG to travel between the Sabetta terminal on the Yamal peninsula and north Asian ports. As hydrocarbons begin their decline, Novatek, the Russian company that commissioned these shipments, is gambling on sustained or even growing demand from Asian and European…Continue reading