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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The Future of Arctic Shipping Along the Transpolar Sea Route
to less than 6.7 meters (AMSA, 2009: 23). Navigational challenges along these straits are further
increased by the fact that only around 10% of the Arctic Ocean is surveyed according to modern
standards (Huebert et al., 2012: 42). Ships that are too large to pass through the Panama and the Suez
Canal, such as most Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) and Ultra Large Crude Carrier (ULCC), as
well as Capesize container ships, are also too large to travel the NSR (Sœther, 1999: 36; Ragner, 2008;
Lloyd’s Register, 2007). The TSR, on the other hand, does not follow the shallow Siberian coastal
shelf, which results in fewer draft restrictions and navigational challenges. Ships must only pass
through one keyhole, the Bering Strait, between Cape Dezhnev and Cape Prince of Wales. The
Bering Strait has a depth of 30-49 meters, is 46 nm wide and can accommodate all but the largest
To achieve economic profitability along the TSR a different kind of economic optimization needs to
be developed which takes into account the lack of economic hubs, the cost associated with different
types of Arctic shipping, and uncertainties with regard to investments for special equipment and
insurance. A number of studies on the theoretical advantages conclude that bulk shipping will be
more viable than liner shipping in the near future. Bulk dry and wet carriers, for example, follow less
predictable schedules and their routes depend more on changing supply and demand of less time-
sensitive items. Yet none of the studies explicitly exclude the possibility of Arctic container shipping
(Verny & Grigentin, 2009; Liu & Kronbak, 2010; Lasserre & Pelletier, 2011; Schøyen & Bråthen,
Another important factor to determine the commercial feasibility of Arctic shipping rests in the hand
of ship owners’ intentions to pursue and develop Arctic maritime transportation. Lasserre & Pelletier
(2011) conducted an empirical survey to determine ship owners’ interests in Arctic shipping
development; their results indicate that the scenarios of Arctic shipping remain highly speculative.
The authors concluded that ship owners’ intentions are rather restrained and less optimistic than they
are often publicly portrayed. Both the bulk and the container sectors of the market remain cautious,
indicating that the future of Arctic shipping will not become a trans-Arctic “Panamanian”, but
instead be used for destinational shipping and consist primarily of local traffic (Lasserre & Pelletier,
Yet corporate behavior is not necessarily complementary to or driven by national behavior. China’s
increasing investment in Arctic research is largely based on geopolitical considerations. The TSR
would not only diversify China’s supply and trade routes, but also contribute to the development of