Arctic Yearbook 2012
summer was that of the Soviet nuclear icebreaker
, which supported scientific operations during
the period from 8 May to 19 June 1987, reaching the North Pole on 25 May (AMSA, 2009).
Eleven of the 77 voyages were conducted by diesel-powered icebreakers, the rest had nuclear
propulsion (AMTW, 2004: A-26). The fact that conventionally-powered icebreakers have conducted
successful operations to high-latitudes in all regions of the Central Arctic Ocean implies that such
voyages are not entirely dependent on nuclear propulsion. New icebreaking technology may enhance
the capabilities of diesel-powered ships to operate in the waters around the North Pole.
The dwindling sea ice cover has given some extra impetus and nourishment to the old idea that
commercial ships shall one day be able to operate in ice-infested waters without icebreaker escort or
in convoy. Norilsk Nickel will soon have a fleet of six operational icebreaking carriers, all highly
capable of operating independently of icebreakers through the winter season to serve the port of
Dudinka along the NEP (AMSA, 2009). The rapid development of ice-classed vessels and
icebreaking technologies “…can make shipping in Arctic Waters feasible even in ‘winter’ months like
April/May or November/December (Tupolev, 2011: 12).”
Apart from sea ice conditions, regular shipping operations in the High Seas of the Arctic Ocean are
up against multiple challenges. Among the more obvious is the lack of governmental or commercial
salvage response to support shipping in far-away waters, there is also a lack of communications and
there are no routinely produced ice information products at navigation scale for the High Seas
beyond coastal state waters. Although all Arctic states provide marine weather information for their
coastal waters, none has as yet been assigned the responsibility to do so for the High Seas regions –
although an initiative seems to be underway in this respect (Østreng et al., 2012: Ch. 5).
Connecting Corridors in Southern Waters
On the Atlantic side of the Arctic Ocean there are three possible corridors: the “Northern Maritime
Corridor” (NMC) connecting the NEP to Europe and North America; the “Fram Corridor” (FC)
connecting the TPP to the North Atlantic and ultimately to the NMC; and the “Davis Corridor”
(DC) connecting the NWP to the western branch of the NMC and the east coast of North America.
On the Pacific side, the three Arctic passages connect with one joint southern corridor: the
“Northern Pacific Corridor” (NPC) going through the Bering Strait linking the west coast of North
America and North East Asia to the “Great Circle Route” (GCR). These corridors are two-way
corridors employed by transit and destination Arctic shipping.