World's biggest shipping firm to test Russian Arctic route

Danish shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk said Thursday it will send a cargo vessel through the Russian Arctic for the first time as a result of melting sea ice.

Janina von Spalding, spokeswoman for the world's biggest shipping company, said the new ice class container vessel, Venta Maersk, would embark on trial journey in the Arctic route over Russia next month.

"I think it is important to underline that this is a one-off trial designed to explore an unknown route for container shipping and to collect scientific data — and not the launch of a new product," von Spalding said in an email to The Associated Press.

"In today's fast-paced world, companies that want to lead must innovate," she said, adding the trial "will offer us a unique opportunity to gain operational experience in a new area and to test vessel systems, crew capabilities and the functionality of the shore based support setup."

The Northern Sea Route could be a shorter route for journeys from East Asia to Europe than the Northwest Passage over Canada because it will likely be free of ice sooner due to climate change.

Experts say it could reduce the most commonly used East Asia-Europe route via the Suez Canal from 21,000 kilometers (13,000 miles) to 12,800 kilometers (8,000 miles), cutting transit time by 10-15 days.

Von Spalding said the ship will leave Russia's Pacific port city of Vladivostok around Sept. 1 with a cargo of frozen fish and sail to St. Petersburg where it will arrive by the end of the month.

The transit route was coordinated with Russian authorities after careful evaluation of ice conditions, and ice breaker assistance will be at hand, the Copenhagen-based group said.

"Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial alternative to our existing network which is defined by our customers' demand, trading patterns and population centers," she added.


Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.