The Venta Mearsk became the first commercial container ship to successfully navigate the Northern Sea Route © Mearsk

Who wins when the sea ice melts?

Melting sea ice around the North Pole is a catastrophe for everyone… except shipping companies.

Thanks to the decline in Arctic sea ice caused by global warming, the Venta Mearsk became the first commercial container ship to successfully navigate the Northern Sea Route.

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The 42,000-tonne vessel, carrying a cargo of fish from Russia and electronics from South Korea, docked in St Petersburg on Friday 28 September 2018, 37 days after setting sail from Vladivostok.

The Northern Sea Route runs across the top of Russia and could provide a shipping lane between Europe and Asia that’s 8,000km shorter and approximately two weeks faster than the alternative course via the Suez Canal, India and Malaysia. But until now, sea ice has made it impossible for cargo vessels to complete the passage.

It’s not good news at all, though. Large vessels such as the Venta Mearsk passing through the route regularly will cause additional damage to the region. Particulate emissions from the fuel burnt in the ships’ engines will settle on what ice is left, causing it to absorb rather than reflect heat from the Sun and increasing the rate at which it melts.

The Digital Silk Road - China's $200 billion project © Getty Images

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