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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Shipping and Resources in the Arctic Ocean
as the “navigators nightmare” (Synhorst, 1973: 110-111) clogged as it is with first year sea ice more
than 4 feet thick. Multi-year sea ice is known to move through the strait at speeds approaching 27
nautical miles per day. The closest U.S. harbour with deep water is Dutch Harbour at the Aleutians
in the Southern Bering Sea. On the Russian side, the nearest deep water port is Providenija. Thus,
the regional shortage of suitable and effective infrastructure is striking and in need of cost-intensive
improvements. Current shipping activity in the area is based on community re-supply and destination
traffic. In recent years, Asian countries have expressed interest in Arctic shipping and resources. As
has been observed “…the ports of the Far East, south of the Bering Strait, are not related to the
Arctic, but of course this cannot lessen their role in the Arctic transport supply” (Tamvakis et al.,
1999: 264).
The prospects of the Arctic being navigable during more months of the year, leading to both shorter
shipping routes and access to untapped energy resources, has moved observers to assume that
China’s large shipping companies can be expected to avail themselves of Arctic routes, even though
those routes will be open only on a summer season basis (Chircop, 2011: 11). Chinese Vice Premier
Li Keqiang, in a public speech in 2009, urged Chinese scientists to continue to push forward in polar
and oceanic exploration to serve the county’s modernization drive because the ocean has become an
important source of natural resources (see website). China has also engaged in
formal bilateral dialogues on Arctic issues with Canada, Iceland and Norway. From a Chinese
viewpoint, an ice-free Arctic will increase the value of strong ties and broader cooperation with the
Nordic countries (Jacobson, 2010; Chircop, 2011) not least because China’s quest to become a
permanent observer to the Arctic Council has failed twice.
Japanese institutions have for the last 20 years given the NSR much attention. The Japanese Ministry
of Transport was actively involved in organizing the
International Northern Sea Route Programme
(INSROP) together with the
Ship and Ocean Foundation
(SOF) in the early 1990s. SOF, which was one
of three principal partners in the implementation of INSROP lasting for six years (Østreng, 1999:
xxxv-xlii), also organized the INSROP Symposium in Tokyo in 1995. Then she initiated the follow
up research program – JANSROP – which focused attention on the establishment of a
transportation system to bring energy resources from Far East Russia to international markets
(Kitagawa, 2006).
South Korea being the fourth largest oil importing and the tenth largest oil consuming country in the
world is dependent on oil deliveries from the Middle East. From a logistical point of view, the