Arctic opportunities

What is true is that the Arctic region is changing in a way that is already bringing considerable new commercial opportunities. To quote a 'key finding' of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 'reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources'. For example, the number of ships moving through Arctic waters is already increasing significantly. Cruise ships around Greenland and Svalbard are already fairly commonplace, while Russian ships are now using the western end of the Northern Sea Route throughout the year in order to move ore from the mine industrial complex at Noril'sk to the Kola Peninsula.2 By February 2009, Russia's largest shipping company, Sovkomflot, had bought into service three new ice class shuttle tankers that were specially designed and built to move oil from the terminal at Varandey to Murmansk. Each of these three vessels was capable of moving in temperatures of around -20 degrees, breaking ice up to 6 feet deep without any icebreaker escort. It planned to bring more of these tankers into service to move oil from other Arctic fields, such as Prirazlomnoye, just south of Novaya Zemla.

Above all, the story of Pat Broe illustrates the commercial opportunities of a changing environment. When a Russian ship pulled quietly into Churchill's harbour, during a cold night in October 2007, its visit was viewed as something of a milestone because it was the first time that the port had ever accepted goods shipped directly from Russia. A vessel leaving Murmansk for Canada ordinarily navigates the Atlantic, moves through the St Lawrence Seaway, makes its way into the Great Lakes and then stops in Ontario's Thunder Bay. This is a protracted journey that takes a whole 17 days. But it would take the same ship just 8 days to reach the port of Churchill, still crossing the Atlantic to get there, while its goods could then be quickly moved to their destination markets by rail and road. This link between Churchill and Murmansk has been called the 'Arctic Bridge', since both ports lie north of the Circle.

Not surprisingly, on that October day delegates from the Russian embassy, the Murmansk Shipping Company and various government representatives greeted the captain and crew of the Kapitan Sviridov with very warm handshakes. 'Today represents the first successful shipment on the Arctic Bridge', proclaimed Mike Ogborn, the head of OmniTrax. 'It is a great step forward in showing the world that the port of Churchill is a two-way port.' Sergei Khuduiakov, an official at the embassy of the Russian Federation, concurred. 'The goal is very simple', as he put it, 'global warming gives us an opportunity to establish better marine shipping routes between Canada and Russia, and this project, the Arctic Bridge, has very good prospects.' Both countries, he concluded, are 'very interested in the development of our northern regions. Cooperation is very important for us'.3

Besides Pat Broe's new enterprise, there are other commercial shipping activities in the Canadian Arctic. Nickel concentrates are regularly shipped to Quebec from Deception Bay, and iron ore from the Mary River mine on Baffin Island. Could this be a sign that the region will become a new trade route linking the Atlantic with the Pacific?

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