New shipping rules are soon to be agreed for the Arctic, where summer sea ice has shrunk by about two-thirds over three decades, opening a new ocean with vast natural resources.
Maritime nations are close to a landmark deal on the Polar Code, aimed to improve safety, lead to lower insurance premiums and help the rise of traffic, industry insiders said.
About a tenth of the world’s undiscovered oil and close to a third of its undiscovered gas is thought to lie under Arctic waters. The Northern Sea Route along Russia’s edge can reduce the sailing distance between Asian ports and Northern Europe by 40 percent.
A draft of the code could be finalised by members of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) this week and go into force by 2016, ending years of delays, Sturla Henriksen, the director general of Norwegian Shipowners’ Association said.
"There are no international conventions which regulate Arctic shipping operations, so in principle the same rules apply for sunny sailing in the Mediterranean as for the Arctic," Henriksen told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference.
"It’s a cold place, it has a hostile climate, it’s enshrouded in darkness half of the year, weather is violent and extreme, distances are vast, the area is remote from large population centres, it’s sparsely populated and it’s far from basic infrastructure," Henriksen added.
Only 71 ships crossed the Northern Sea Route last year, compared to the 18,000 handled by the Suez Canal, but about a 1,000 vessels travelled into the high Arctic, with much of the growth coming from oil and gas activity, particularly in Russia.