With the melting of Arctic sea ice as a result of climate changes, there has been an intensification of interest, and use, of Arctic waters for shipping. This article seeks to do two things: first, define and compare the transport passages of the Arctic Ocean on the basis of their geographical features, natural conditions, political significance, and legal characteristics displaying their distinctions, interrelations and eventual overlaps focusing on the Northeast Passage, of which the Northern Sea Route is the main part; the Northwest Passage; and the Trans Polar Passage. And second, to discuss how Arctic passages connect or may connect to world markets through transport corridors in southern waters. The article concludes by examining the more likely prospects for Arctic shipping in the short, medium and long term.
Willy Østreng is President of the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research.