Ten years from now, the busy Asia-to-Europe trade lane could be in a completely different location than it is today. Instead of plying the waters of Southeast Asia and transiting the Suez Canal, container ships might head in the opposite direction, toward the Canadian High Arctic.
With the Arctic ice pack melting at a rapid rate, the fabled Northwest Passage connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans could become a commercially viable trade lane in less than a decade, say climate experts. Such a route could potentially cut weeks off the current transit times from the transportation hubs of North Asia to ports in Northern Europe.
Earlier this year, government officials from Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway, and Russia met in a remote town in Greenland to discuss their competing claims on Arctic resources. Among the resources at stake are oil, gas, minerals, and shipping lanes. At the end of the meeting, the five nations declared their intention to abide by international treaties governing the region, including a United Nations plan that's expected to be in place by 2020.
Canada already claims the Northwest Passage, but other nations argue that the waterway should be open to all. Once the ice melt makes the passage a reliable shipping route, though, Canada will be in the best position to use—and control—the waterway. The Canadian government announced last year that it will upgrade an old deepwater mining port near the passage's eastern entrance, open a military training facility at its northern end, and build military icebreakers that are specifically designed to guard the passage.
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