China’s COSCO planning ‘several’ shipments along Northern Sea Route

A COSCO ship in the container port of Shanghai, China. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
The Chinese shipping company confirms readiness to increase transit shipments on the Northern Sea Route.

“Our development strategy is to serve the Polar Silk Road and international trade between the North Atlantic region and the far east,” Chen Feng, General Director of COSCO Marketing and Sales, said during a conference in Shanghai. “It is smooth and quick,” the company representative said about the Arctic shipping route.

Chen did not want to specify the number of planned voyages, but made clear that there would be “several of them”, both eastbound and westbound. Much depends on weather and ice conditions, as well as customs demands, he said in a speech delivered at the Arctic Circle China conference last week.

Time is of the essence, the general director made clear. “It is possible to save ten days on a shipment between Asia and Europe when choosing the Northern Sea Route, and that means reduced costs.” He also underlined that the shorter shipping distance can help the company reduce fuel energy which is beneficial for environment, and also the that Arctic Route means no pirate problems like on the southern route through the Suez Canal.

Chen Feng is General Director of COSCO Marketing and Sales. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The west-bound shipments will be made mainly from China but possibly also from South Korea and Japan. “We are also ready to offer services from the North Atlantic region, including European North America side to far east through the Arctic Ocean, the Northeast passage.”

COSCO has over the past five years been the leading company in transit shipments along the shipping route through Russian Arctic waters. The first two shipments were made in 2013 and, in 2018, a total of eight voyages were made.

In the course of the five year period, a total of 22 trans-Arctic shipments have been conducted by the company.

Following environmental rules

Environmental aspects are of key importance for the company, Chen Feng underlined. “We follow environmental protection when sailing and we are ready to offer sustainable shipping service in accordance with rules and regulations.”

The growing Arctic activities of the state-owned company come as China’s engagement in the region intensifies. The country’s so-called Polar Silk Road has become a component of the grand Belt and Road initiative, and Russian authorities earlier this month made clear that they see their Northern Sea Route as part of the picture.

Despite rapid ice melting along the Russian Arctic coast, the waters in the area remain highly complicated for ships. In 2018, a total of 491,000 tons of cargo was shipped on the route, most of it by COSCO’s eight Chinese ships.

The China Ocean Shipping Company – COSCO – is one of the biggest shipping companies in the world. More than 130 ships are in the company’s fleet. Only few of them however have solid ice protection standard.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: The Arctic shipping route no one is talking about, Cryopolitics Blog

China: New icebreaking tanker chooses southern route for maiden voyage, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: Authorities in Arctic Finland plan zones for controversial rail line, Yle News

Norway: How a Norwegian coastal ferry service went global, Cryopolitics Blog

Russia: Russia, China step up talks over Arctic shipping, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Local shipping generates more emissions than domestic flights, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. stuns audience by tongue-lashing China, Russia on eve of Arctic Council ministerial, Eye on the Arctic

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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