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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The Future of Arctic Shipping Along the Transpolar Sea Route
Instead of realizing time savings, operators can also adopt super-slow sailing. Due to the shorter
length of the TSR, a ship going from Tokyo to Rotterdam can reduce its speed by 40% and still
arrive in Japan at the same time as a ship sailing at full speed traveling through the Suez Canal. In
addition, super-slow sailing may more than double a vessels’ energy efficiency performance (Schøyen
& Bråthen, 2011), resulting in a significant reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. In light of
dwindling global demand following the recession of 2007 and also growing awareness about climate
change emissions a number of major shipping lines, e.g. Maersk, adopted super-slow sailing, which
lowers speeds from the standard of 25 knots to around 12 knots. More than 100 Maersk vessels have
utilized super-slow steaming since 2007 and the diesel engines on its entire fleet of more than 600
ships have been adapted to travel at super-slow speeds without sustaining damage. The adoption of
super-slow sailing has saved the shipping company more than US$100 million (Vidal, 2010). If a
future emissions control framework were to include global maritime traffic the reduction of
emissions could also result in significant cost savings.
The advantages of the Northern shipping
routes are also strongly connected to an international “geography of places”, indicating that the
economic centers of both Europe and Asia are slightly moving north, which would increase the
advantages of trans-Arctic shipping over traditional routes (Verny & Grigentin, 2009).
Apart from considering distance-related cost savings, the economic viability of Arctic shipping routes
is also highly dependent on the performance of the international seaborne trade at large. The sector
as a whole is subject to the same shocks and uncertainties as the world economy and mirrors the
performance of the wider economy (UNCTAD, 2011). Any attempt to develop a comprehensive
assessment of future navigation along the TSR would thus need to take into account myriad
uncertainties, part of the complex system of global trade. These variables include the fluctuations of
bunker fuel costs, potentially high costs for shipping insurance and icebreaker escort requirements,
vagueness of global trade forecasts, evolving marine infrastructure and technological development,
differences in cost of container shipping, tanker transport, and LNG shipping, and the distinctness
of AMSA’s four Arctic shipping types.
Global shipping operations are dependent on three key factors: predictability, punctuality, and
economy-of-scale, all of which are currently limited in Arctic shipping. The combination of both a
lack-of-schedule-reliability and variable transit times along the Arctic shipping routes represents a
major obstacle towards the development of the TSR.
The majority of cargo ships that travel the
world’s oceans operate on regular schedules, known as liner service. In total more than 6,000 ships