Neither the Northwest nor the Northeast Passage has so far become important in international shipping. Nevertheless, the prospects should be re-assessed in light of new circumstances in the Arctic, especially the changing ice situation which makes it possible to envisage a future with drastically increased shipping activity. This paper argues, however, that developments on the two sea routes in question today are not straight forward. In the case of the Northwest Passage, ice problems are expected to remain a major limiting factor for many years and the Canadian authorities are not actively promoting international usage of the route, something which is partly related to legal controversies over the status of the passage. In the case of the Northeast Passage, Russia actively advertises its Northern Sea Route, seeing rapidly improving ice conditions. However, the commercial conditions remain uncertain and necessary investments in icebreakers and infrastructure are so far missing. The Northern Sea Route may, besides its regional usage, especially in the western part, have the potential for limited transits in the most favourable season. The Russian vision of year-round transit traffic seems quite unrealistic within the perspective of this decade.
Authors : Arild Moe and Øystein Jensen, Fridtjof Nansen Institute
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