Nordic Orion traverses NWP
A fabled route finally comes into use as a shortcut
The Panamanian-flag bulk carrier Nordic Orion was built in Japan in 2011. Managed by Nordic Bulk Carriers A/S of Denmark, the 75,603 DWT vessel carries dry bulk cargoes worldwide. On 6 September 2013, it departed Vancouver, British Columbia with a load of metallurgical coal for offloading at the Rautaruukki steel plant in Pori, Finland. It arrived on 3 October. Traditionally, there are two routes for such a vessel between these two ports: via the Panama Canal or via the Suez Canal. Recently, the Northern Sea Route across the top of Russia also beckons. Nordic Orion chose none of these. Rather, it is navigating through the fabled Northwest Passage (NWP), above Alaska and mainland Canada. Carrying a Canadian ice pilot, the ship (Ice Class 1A) is coordinating its transit through the Canadian Coast Guard’s NORDREG system. Few commercial vessels have attempted such a transit. Most vessels found in the NWP are there as a destination. In 1969, the SS Manhattan travelled from the US East Coast to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to pick up a ceremonial 55-gallon barrel of oil to prove such a transit was possible. Several cruise ships have made the journey so that paying passengers could have a unique experience. Oil rigs and their associated support vessels have explored for oil and gas off the Arctic coast. Bulk carriers take Arctic minerals to more temperate climes for processing. Reduced ice coverage in summer months has been more pronounced in recent years throughout waters of the Northern Sea Route than it has been in waters of the NWP. That does not mean that the warming has had no effect in the waters between the islands of the Canadian Archipelago. Depending on wind, ships sailing the traditional route south of Banks Island and Victoria Island may only encounter significant ice as they approach Peel Sound and Lancaster Sound near Resolute. The NWP can save about 5,000 miles on some transits. As sea ice coverage continues to remain low, one should expect further use of the NWP as a shortcut.