Arctic Portal logo

Arctic shipping

Northern sea route navigation season projection

The possibility of a trans-arctic shipping route has intrigued seafarers since the days of the first Arctic explorers, as it would shorten the distance between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean significantly. Challenging weather conditions and the lack of adequate shipping technology trans arctic shipping has not become a viable possibility as of yet. Shipping in the Arctic is on the rise and it is estimated that approximately 6000 vessels are operating annually in the Arctic region, many of them making multiple voyages. Off these 6000 ships operating in the Arctic almost all of them are declinational, conducted for community re-supply, moving natural resources out of the Arctic or marine tourism.

The fact that the Arctic ice cap has been receding at an unprecedented rate, recent advancements in shipping technologies and an increasing interest in the Arctic’s resources have made the matter one of the most prominent issues in the northern hemisphere. Existing shipping lanes barely manage the current traffic as the Suez and Panama canal’s serve as bottlenecks and are not capable of servicing the largest container vessels of today. It is to be expected that shipment through the Arctic will become a viable option in the future. With growing technology and a receding ice cap the quest for resources companies are reaching further into the arctic region for resources and tourism activities by cruise liners is on the rise.

shipping routesCurrently there seems to be a consensus that all of these activities will increase further and that trans arctic shipping will become a reality, that it is just a matter of time. There are nonetheless significant challenges, and issues that need to be analyzed and dealt with to prevent environmental disasters and ensure the safety of seafarers. It is clear that the benefits of these activities can be significant, but the environmental hazards are numerous as well. Infrastructure and safety measures are lacking and need to be addressed. There is an ongoing debate if there is a need for mandatory regulations by the IMO. The jurisdiction over the waterway is also disputed most prominently between the U.S and Canada.

The matter has received substantial attention from researchers and organizations, some of these works can be found in the links bellow.


Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMAP) 2009 Report

Recently published report, which is very detailed and covers most of the outstanding issues, possibilities and challenges connected to shipping activities in the Arctic

North meets North, navigation and the future of the Arctic Report of a working group of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Iceland 2006.

Gives a substancial overview of shipping in the Arctic and what it’s future might hold. It also examines the possibilities of a transhipment port in Iceland.

Arctic Shipping Activities into the next Decade1

By: Norwegian Maritime Directorate

Gives a brief overview over developments in shipping in different parts of Arctic Waters by type and estimates for future development in Arctic shipping.

Developments in Arctic Shipping

Produced by the research company Ocean Futures, Oslo for the Norwegian Atlantic Committee

Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-Covered Waters

Guidelines developed in 2002 by the International Maritime Organization for operating in Arctic Ice-Covered Waters

The IMO Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-covered Waters From Voluntary to Mandatory Tool for Navigation Safety and Environmental Protection?

By: Øystein Jensen

Interesting report, which discusses if there is a need for mandatory guidelines for ships operating in Arctic Ice-covered waters.

United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) /Direct link to the UNCLOS agreement

International shipping is largely regulated by the UNCLOS agreement. All of the countries of the Arctic besides the U.S have ratified the agreement. They are non-the less to a great extent bound to it as customary international law.


Arctic sea routes


Ice Strengthened vessells and icebreakers

Aker Arctic.

Finnish company dedicated to building icebreakers and ice strengthened cargo vessels.

Yamal the Russian Icebreaker

The Yamal, a nuclear powered Icebreaker: Interesting information about the Russian icebreaker Yamal.

Conferences and symposiums related to Arctic shipping

International Symposium on Sea Ice in the Physical and Biogeochemical System

International Glaciological Society 31 May - 4 June 2010