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The future of Arctic Shipping – Is there a business case? Who will drive it? Science, technology, infrastructure, the actors!

Halldór Jóhannsson, Arctic Portal, Iceland

Currently there are limited developments supporting increased shipping activity through the Arctic, at least by small to medium business operators. For Arctic shipping to increase it needs a driver. How and by whom will its development be led and how will it be utilized twenty years from now?

A very strong consensus among those attending the ACI shipping conference in Hamburg in December 2018 was that there would be caution and likely much less activity in shipping through the Arctic than previously predicted, at least by small to medium commercial shipping operators. The cost, complications and potential risk are simply too high, and the return and advantage too small for them to become interested. The concerns of the stakeholders are a clear lack of infrastructure and information services but more that the business case is not there, or at best, is unclear. As domestic shipping, fishing and tourism is however expected to increase, there were strong concerns of limited search and rescue infrastructure and training. The question “Who is responsible for organizing safe and prosperous utilization and paying for needed further developments?” was also widely discussed but neither the shipping nor the insurance companies currently see a clear role here for them to play. The questions and concerns are if anything more relevant now in 2023 given the more complex Geopolitics and constraints in international collaboration in science, business and policymaking!

The business of shipping in the Arctic will need to develop in a global context. It will therefore have to be an international undertaking. There is a clear and highly important need for ongoing internationally driven research and improved integrated observations, new information services, clear regulations, and infrastructure development in the Arctic region, not least related to search and rescue services.

The Russian Yamal LNG project is a case study and an immediate test of the viability of Arctic Sea routes and their potential role as the blue economic corridor. Future activities will likely be driven by the largest international companies, likely with direct mandate and support from governmental bodies, that then can approach the business of Arctic Shipping from an economic, political and global agenda.

The uncertainty surrounding the Arctic Council and its future development certainly complicates the situation immensely. This section on Arctic Shipping by the Arctic Portal will be constantly updated with information and data, in collaboration with leading experts and organizations, in the spirit of open science for the benefit of all!

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