Arctic could become the new Singapore
As the reality of transiting an ice-free Northwest Passage moves one step closer, the US government is being warned it is at serious risk of lagging behind on matters of security, sovereignty and the environment.
A report released this week by Politics Daily quotes Scott Borgerson from the The Council for Foreign Relations as saying the north coast of Alaska may soon "resemble the coast of Louisiana, lit by the lights of ships and oil rigs."
Borgerson predicts that some Alaskan ports may become a new Singapore, which could lead to an increase in risks of collisions and bunker spills as a result of a sudden increase in traffic.
While the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) gets ready to discuss the matter at its 60th session next week, the report highlights a lack of investment and US presence to protect the region.
"The Coast Guard lacks the icebreakers and communication equipment necessary for a year-round Arctic presence. Russia operates 19 icebreakers, the US Coast Guard has only two," the report stated.
One prediction by the US Arctic Research Commission states that the area could be completely ice-free in summers as soon as 2020.
"That would make commercial shipping viable, meaning that a single Chinese container ship using the Northwest Passage instead of the Panama Canal could save $2 million each way between Shanghai and New York.
"Up to 25% of the Earth's shipping may, in our lifetime, be sailing the polar route," according to Politics Daily.
In an exclusive interview with Captain Arnold Vingsnes, an independent maritime consultant who has had vast experience sailing the Arctic, Sustainable Shipping was told that despite the potential of the area, "the regions potential for expansion remains hindered by a lack of basic support facilities with respect to appropriate and available icebreaker assist, search and rescue, and accessible port areas of safe refuge."
Vingsnes added that shore-based waste disposal and bunkering facilities require development as does "building of appropriate berth facilities for loading of cargo."
His concerns mirror those raised by the environmental community and the Arctic Council, many of whom agree that expansion is inevitable, but must be done sustainably.
Efforts to move ahead with concrete measures to protect the Arctic are also being hindered as Russia, Canada, the US and other northern countries try to assert jurisdiction and agree on their offshore boundaries.
While Canada recently announced plans to introduce the Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone that would track the movement of cargo carriers, cruise ships and other large vessels moving through the Canadian Arctic, the international community is being asked to act now.
MEPC 60 is to consider a number of proposals regarding Arctic shipping, among them is one put forward by Norway on the environmental aspects of polar shipping and one by Friends of the Earth International on short-lived climate-forcing aerosols from shipping activity in the Arctic.
For details of the proposals visit the Sustainable Shipping MEPC 60 library section.