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Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage is first and foremost considered to be continuous passage between islands and the continental mainland of Canada rather than an actual shipping route.

Historically the Northwest Passage is known as Strait of Anian, which is a Spanish name for the passage that in 16th century was believed to connect the Pacific Ocean with the North Atlantic, which back then was the most desired shipping route of commerce.

The Passage represents a potentially attractive and valuable commercial shipping route if it were to become more accessible for navigation at a longer period of the year. In reality, it is a series of passages through straits of the Arctic Archipelago. It allows shipping from the North Atlantic Ocean, up Davis Strait between Canada and Greenland. The passage then continues through the Arctic Archipelago, to the Beaufort Sea over to Chukchi Sea and the Bering Strait into the North Pacific. Because of the many islands of the Arctic Archipelago, the potential shipping routes are in fact several each way. However some straits are more feasible than others due to the formation of the land under water.

The question arises with regards to the Northwest Passage and delimitation of Beaufort Sea. By virtue of the historical title and state´s location on the landward side of the baselines drawn around the Arctic Archipelago in 1985, Canada claims Northwest Passage as its internal waters while the United States government argues the Northwest Passage to be an international strait as it connects to bodies that is Davis Strait and Baffin Bay and it is used for international traffic.

The Canadian argument states that Northwest Passage has not been explored internationally while the US brings up the climate change issue, causing the opening of the Arctic waters and the future plan for the Passage to become one of the main Arctic international shipping routes.

Currently, the Northwest Passage is being the shortest and most direct way for United States´ eastern regions to ship to Alaska. Both states decided to give them control over the Northwest Passage to monitor the route and ensure compliance with international legal standards for security and freedom of navigation.

As with the Arctic itself, the status of the Northwest Passage was given limited attention until the latter part of the 20th century. The reason for that, as with other ice-covered areas of the Arctic, is that no particular interest was shown to utilize the route for transport and the conditions were thought to be dangerous. The tables have certainly turned.

While oil and gas development in the Arctic is touched on, use of the Northwest Passage as a supply and service route to and from Asia is a big part of the future Arctic´s plan. New business opportunities, connected not only to the Arctic´s oil and gas resources but also the iron ore, diamonds, gold and fisheries, encourage investors from key business sectors to improve technology in order to develop better and more sufficient infrastructure in the northern hemisphere. Deepwater ports, road infrastructure, greater search and rescue presence and increased graduation rate among Inuit youth in order to increase the growth of northern workforce, are the key objectives for scientists and policy makers to be taken into account.

Nowadays the Northwest Passage is seen as a revolutionary opening for large scale transportation by ships from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic Ocean. Despite the dispute between United States and Canada, Northwest Passage is seen as a global issue to affect trans-Arctic shipping operations of many countries. It is predicted that in near future, it will provide an impetus for international commercial usage.

Interactive Mapping System provides visualization of Arctic Shipping Routes. Please, click the link under the box on the right hand side to access the map or view the map of the Northwest Passage.

Source: Breaking the Ice: Arctic Development and Maritime Transportation

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