Cosco’s heavylift vessel Tian En called at the French port of Rouen yesterday evening to much fanfare having sailed through the Arctic for the first time. The conclusion of the voyage however came at a time when the fragile frozen region came close yesterday to a major catastrophe.
Environmental groups are increasingly concerned about the impact of more Arctic transits. Yesterday early morning a barge broke its mooring and allided with the berthed roro Zapolyarnyy in Dudinka port in the centre of the Russian Arctic. The barge was okay, while the roro suffered dents in its stern.
The Cosco vessel, meanwhile, carrying wind farm equipment, left China’s Lianyungang Port on August 4 and arrived at Rouen after a 33-day voyage. Cosco has not commented on what fuel it used for the voyage despite calls from NGO Clean Arctic Alliance.
In 2013, the Cosco heavylift vessel Yong Sheng became China’s first merchant vessel sailing through the Arctic and after that Cosco has sent a total of 10 vessels on Arctic routes.
In a white paper expounding its Arctic policy earlier this year, Beijing stated its hopes for merchant ships and even tankers to ply new routes via the Arctic Circle to advance its Belt and Road initiative.
The Cosco voyage is one of several notable Arctic trips underway at the moment. The brand new 3,600 Venta Maersk is currently off northern Japan as it makes its way along the Northern Sea Route, becoming the first containership to make this journey.
The Clean Arctic Alliance’s lead advisor Sian Prior commented on the risks of more vessels transiting the Northern Sea Route.
“With Arctic summer sea ice at approximately half the extent it was in the 1970s and half the volume, and following the news that the region’s strongest sea ice has broken up twice this year, for the first time on record, using heavy fuel oil to power shipping in the Arctic is a poor choice. It not only increases the risk of oil spills, but also generates emissions of black carbon, which exacerbate the melting of both sea and glacier ice in the Arctic region.”
In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed to move forward on consideration of a Arctic ban on heavy fuel oil – which is already banned in Antarctic waters. The meeting directed a sub-committee (PPR6) – which will meet in early 2019 – to develop a ban on heavy fuel oil use and carriage for use by ships in the Arctic, “on the basis of an assessment of the impacts” and “on an appropriate timescale”.
“Now it is time for international shipping companies to clean up their act by moving to cleaner fuels, while operating in sensitive and vulnerable regions of the world – for the sake of the Arctic, its people, its wildlife and indeed, for the whole planet”, concluded Prior.