The North Pole, Northwest Passage and Pirates

arctic-sunset-north-pole
In the brief two days since gCaptain reported on the upcoming Arctic conference, being attended next week by Hillary Clinton and other dignitaries or arctic nations, the news reports from the region have increased dramatically. In fact, a few individuals (and countries!) have taken the opportunity to propose new plans for the development of the region. Countries like Denmark which plans to announce ownership of the North Pole. CNN tells us:

The Kingdom of Denmark is preparing to claim ownership of the North Pole, according to a Danish media report.

In a document leaked to the Danish newspaper Information, Denmark will ask the United Nations to recognize the North Pole as a geologic extension of Greenland, the vast Arctic island that is a Danish territory. Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen confirmed the annexation attempt, Information reported.

According to The Copenhagen Post, “The kingdom is expected to make a demand for the continental shelf in five areas around the Faroe Islands and Greenland, including the North Pole itself.”

Denmark has set its sights on the geographic North Pole, a fixed point in the Arctic Ocean at 90 degrees north latitude and 0 degrees longitude. The magnetic north pole, the one your Cub Scout compass points to, is near there but moves around all the time as Earth’s magnetic field shifts, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We are in the middle of an important and civilized process of how to usefully manage the last area in the world not owned by anyone,” Greenland President Kuupik Kleist told Information. “… If we did not, we would leave it to those who have already filed claims, or who will do it. It is therefore a must that Denmark is preparing claims.” Continue reading…

Until now, I was unaware that a country could claim a region of the ocean. Yes, the North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean amidst waters that are almost permanently covered with constantly shifting sea ice. But that doesn’t seem to worry Greenland President Kuupik Kleist who told reporters “If we did not, we would leave it to those who have already filed claims, or who will do it. It is therefore a must that Denmark is preparing claims.”

In slightly less rediculous news from Hong Kong, Felix Tschudi, the chairman of the Tschudi Shipping Company, concluded that the shipping industry’s pirate problem could be solved by our warming planet.

And it’s not a new idea of his. Tschudi starting work last year on his plan to start shipping iron ore from Norway, where his company owns a mine, to China, the mine’s largest customer. The route he wanted to use is known as Northeast Passage, a path that meanders from northern Europe east along Russia’s vast north coast and through the Bering Strait, before making a right turn south. Time Magazine tells us:

Arctic Shipping Routes - Northwest PassageWhy try again now? The reasons the shipping magnate cited for looking into the voyage today are compelling: the summer sea ice along the route is at a historic low, technological advances in ships have made the trip feasible, commodity prices are sufficiently high that more sources and cheaper routes are needed, and, perhaps most importantly, “Russia is interested.”

With Russia’s help, Tshcudi’s firm successfully completed the trip last summer. One of their ships, loaded with 100,000 tons of iron ore, was accompanied by a Russian nuclear icebreaker for the journey. Technically, the icebreaker wasn’t needed; the ice is so sparse now in the Arctic summers that the crews only encountered drift ice along the way. But ‘renting’ a Russian companion is part of the deal for any commercial ship wanting to make its way through those waters. In 2009, when two German ships were the first commercial vessels to successfully use the northeast passage, they, too, had a Russian host.

Tschudi says that while the cost of using this route ended up being comparable to the longer route through the Suez Canal, the company saved both time and fuel on the journey, and, of course, avoided the piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Continue reading…

Stay tuned to gCaptain as the Arctic conference gets underway and we continue our report on it’s possible effect on shipping including new likes for the future like transporting icebergs to drought suffering countries or celestial fixes off the Aurora Borealis.