Venta Maersk’s Arctic Venture

“Forecasts are not in her favor. Large masses of sea-ice are said to be drifting soon into her projected path.”
– Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
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Venta Maersk’s Arctic Venture

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser

The Venta Maersk (VM) is a brand new container ship with a carrying capacity of 3,600 standard 20 ft. size (TEU) containers. With a length of 200 m and a beam of 36 m, it is quite a large vessel but nowhere near the really large container ships that can carry three to five times as many TEU.

What is novel and noteworthy is the fact that the Venta Maersk is the first container ship scheduled to traverse the Northern Sea Route. Furthermore, the vessel has obviously been designed for operation in the Arctic by having a (Finnish-Swedish) “Class 1A” designation, meaning the vessel has certain structural fortifications and a hull that can plow through non-consolidated sea-ice of 1 m thickness.; you can follow her voyage at the website: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:5568438/mmsi:219115000/imo:9775763/vessel:VENTA_MAERSK.

Northern Sea Route

The Northern Sea Route (NSR), also referred to as the Northeast Passage, is the water path around the northern edge of the Eurasian land mass through the Arctic Ocean. Traditional shipping routes between the Far East, such as Japan, and Europe are via the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. The latter route is approximately 11,000 nautical miles (NMs) long. Without the Suez Canal (first built in 1869), an alternative route around the southern tip of Africa, Cape of Good Hope, is some 14,000 NMs long.

The Northeast Passage, or NSR (in blue)
and the Mediterranean route (in red).

The NSR shortens the travel distance between Japan and The Netherlands to only 7,000 NMs. Of course, that translates into a potentially significant reduction in cost and transit time for shipping large volumes of cargo between these areas.  However, there are a just a few wrinkles in that calculation.

Wrinkle-1

The Arctic is not entirely free of (sea-)ice. Actually it has never been nor is likely to ever be – despite all the promised “ice-free” Arctic summers. That sea-ice extent in the Arctic undergoes an enormous swing each year, waxing from 6,000,000 km square at the end of summer (in September) to 16,000,000 km square at the height of winter (in March). The Danish Meteorological Institute provides daily chart updates of ice-extent and -volume.

Even “ice-free” areas in such surveys of the Arctic are not necessarily free of any ice. The definition of “free” here means a surface ice cover of less than 15%. As the smallest grid area for these (satellite) surveys, ice covering an area of 100 km square (i.e. 10×10 km), one could still encounter ice floes of 15 km square in size there as well. Now on to Wrinkle-2.

Wrinkle-2

All objects floating on the sea are constantly subject to the influences of wind and currents. While most sea-ice has comparatively little “windage” (i.e. being pushed by wind), its resistance is equally low. As a result, large masses of ice (including the “ice-free” zones) can move long distances without much force. For example, I have experienced that myself on a sizable bay in the Great Lakes area, pushing through a patch of broken ice of, perhaps, one ft size pieces, in early spring. A couple of very calm days later, it had moved out of my path and was nowhere to be seen; the un-nerving crunching and scraping sounds of that on the hull of my “tin” boat are still in my memory though.

Even small “sail boats” are very much affected by the wind. This is apparent from the recent (Day  62/63) southward drift of the three-man expedition by the Colliard adventurers who currently attempt to sail to the North Pole. Not only are these men “freezing their buns off,” in my estimation they’ll soon need to be rescued. This group is neither the first nor likely the last one to attempt such “heroics.”

Container ships (when fully loaded with numerous containers on top of each other above deck) are certainly influenced by any wind as well. Specifically for the current voyage by the VM, the forecasts are not in her favor. Large masses of sea-ice are said to be drifting soon into her projected path. As this is basically a trial run, presumably she will not be loaded “to the gills.” But that’s not the end of the wrinkles; there’s at least one more.

Wrinkle-3

The Arctic area is only claimed by a few countries. While some minor overlaps of such and questions do remain, by and large the geography and nations involved are undisputed. One of those facts is that Russia is in jurisdictional control of much of the Eurasian offshore waters right up to the North Pole. As such, Russia has a vital interest in using that and being in control of any activity there, including shipping efforts.

To that end, Russia has transferred the Arctic travel oversight to ROSATOM, a Russian state corporation. It makes sense as Rosatom is in charge of all things nuclear in Russia and the current five (?) large Russian icebreakers in operation are nuclear powered. Russia is keen to develop transit through the Arctic in direct competition to the Suez Canal and is building additional ones. The average costs for passage through the Egyptian state-owned Suez Canal are about $465,000 for a ship the size of the 42,000-tonne Venta Maersk.

To be on the safe side, the VM will be accompanied by at least one Russian icebreaker. That also will have its costs.

Bon voyage to the Venta Maersk!

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Dr Klaus L E KaiserDr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is a professional scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Technical University, Munich, Germany. He has worked as a research scientist and project chief at Environment Canada‘s Canada Centre for Inland Waters for over 30 years and is currently Director of Research at TerraBase Inc. He is author of nearly 300 publications in scientific journals, government and agency reports, books, computer programs, trade magazines, and newspaper articles.

Dr. Kaiser has been president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, a peer reviewer of numerous scientific papers for several journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada for nearly a decade, and an adjunct professor. He has contributed to a variety of scientific projects and reports and has made many presentations at national and international conferences.

Dr. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
convenientmyths.com

Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: mail@convenientmyths.com