Journal of Transport Geography
The Arctic Ocean has been greatly affected by climate change. Future predications show an even more drastic reduction of the ice cap which will open new areas for the exploration of natural resources and maritime transportation. Shipping through the Arctic Ocean via the Northern Sea Route (NSR) could save about 40% of the sailing distance from Asia (Yokohama) to Europe (Rotterdam) compared to the traditional route via the Suez Canal. However, a 40% reduction in distance using the NSR does not mean a corresponding 40% in cost savings due to many factors, including: higher building costs for ice-classed ships, non-regularity and slower speeds, navigation difficulties and greater risks, as well as the need for extra ice breaker service.
The main purpose of this study is to investigate the economic potential of using the NSR as an alternative route between Asia and Europe by taking all the main factors into consideration. It focuses on economic aspect of the NSR, therefore navigation/ environmental/cultural/legal issues are not discussed.
The economic study is conducted by a case study in which 4300 TEU container ships (both non-ice classed and ice classed) are employed to make year round service. The annual profit gained from regular service by a non-ice-classed ship via the Suez Canal for the entire year is compared to the annual profit gained from an ice-classed ship taking the NSR during the navigable months and Suez Canal for the rest of the year. There are three factors that influence the NSR the most: the navigable time of the NSR, Russian NSR fees and bunker prices. To make this study flexible, three scenarios for navigable time, three scenarios for Russian NSR fees as well as three scenarios for bunker prices are proposed. These assumptions are all combined with each other and the profit under each condition is then calculated. The overall comparison is made in order to see under which conditions the NSR is competitive with the Suez Canal.