Arctic Routes Competition for the Canals?

duke's picture

I just watched an interesting YouTube video on the Panama Canal:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6Z4OnLCYIM

One can’t help but wonder after watching the latest update from the Panama Canal Commission, how anyone could seriously believe either the Northern Sea Route or the Northwest Passage are competition for either the Panama Canal or the Suez.   Where tens of thousands of vessels pass through each of the great canals annually, the number that would ever hope to pass along the NSR or the NWP would be measured in hundreds at the most.

Certainly there are economies to be achieved on some transit voyages, but really only for specific one off cargoes or voyages.  Often the fuel savings made are taken up or even exceeded by the increased cost for insurance cover.  Destinational voyages will undoubtedly increase as ice conditions moderate, however a mass refocus of liner traffic to the polar routes is unlikely.  This has recently been made clear by both Maersk’s Nils Anderson in a recent Financial Post interview and COSCO’s Yunpeng Li at Arctic Circle in Reykjavik earlier this month.  Neither sees routing across the Arctic as viable for many years to come in their shipping sectors.

What adds to the misconception of viability is the recent locking on to mis-interpreted, mis-quoted and misunderstood statistics about NSR applications for “transit” during the 2013 shipping season.  Yes there were approximately 300 applications to operate within the NSR this year, but these were NOT for transits through the route from one to the other.  Most were for voyages entering into, departing from or within the NSR.  In fact the total number of complete transits was less than previous years, around 40 in all.  That is hardly competition for 17,000 transits of the Suez Canal in an average year.

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