Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ship crosses Northwest Passage

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TORONTO -- A Danish-owned coal-laden cargo ship has travelled through the Northwest Passage for the first time and into the history books as the second bulk carrier to navigate the Arctic route.

The Nordic Orion left Vancouver on Sept. 17 carrying 15,000 tonnes of coal. Ed Coll, CEO of Bulk Partners, an operational partner of ship-owner Nordic Bulk Carriers, said Friday the freighter has passed Greenland. He said it is expected to dock in Finland next week after traversing waters once impenetrable with thick ice.

Interest in the Northwest Passage is on the rise as climate change is melting Arctic sea ice, creating open waterways. The melting ice could make it a regular Atlantic-Pacific shipping lane.

"Climate change is advancing more quickly to the point where the Northwest Passage has become a more viable shipping route, roughly 30 years earlier than most scientists estimated it would," said Michael Byers, an international law expert at the University of British Columbia.

"I don't celebrate the opening of the Northwest Passage to shipping because it does raise enormous challenges to Canada and for countries around the world in terms of dealing with climate change and its consequences."

Coll said while the reality of melting ice is somewhat unsettling, it has also opened up a new frontier.

Canada has laid claim over ownership of the passage, but it is joined by Russia, the U.S. and Denmark in drafting claims before a UN commission to extend their undersea boundaries into ice-blocked areas.

The Nordic Orion will not undermine Canada's legal position the Northwest Passage constitutes internal waters, since the ship has registered its voyage with the Canadian Coast Guard, which means it has received Canada's permission. It's been more than four decades since the oil tanker SS Manhattan sailed through the Northwest Passage to test its feasibility as a trade route to deliver Alaskan oil to the U.S. East Coast.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 A31

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