The first transit of the Canadian North West Passage by a fully loaded commercial cargo vessel occurred in September 2013. Many commentators had indicated that commercial traffic would never occur in the Canadian Arctic as multi-year ice in the west entrance to the Northwest Passage would block the passage and that the route is not economically feasible because of increased marine insurance costs. They were wrong.
All this changed when the Danish-owned ice-strengthened Panamax bulk carrier Nordic Orion, loaded with a cargo of metallurgical coal, sailed from Vancouver to Finland. The Northwest Passage route saved distance, time and money as the vessel was able to carry its full deadweight cargo as opposed to a reduced load if it had been required to transit the Panama Canal, which imposes depth restrictions. This Arctic voyage shaved 1,000 nautical miles off the voyage, saving fuel and CO2 emissions. It is estimated the vessel saved $200,000 in fuel costs and Panama Canal transit fees. There were no reported problems with this trip. The ship arrived in Finland on October 7, 2013.
The first transit of the Canadian Northwest Passage also represents new opportunities for Canada on which we need to capitalize to seize political and commercial opportunities. K. Joseph Spears in his October 2012 Canadian Sailings article argues that with strong leadership, this is an achievable goal.
The first transit of the Canadian North West Passage also demonstrates that Canada needs to develop the maritime and “sovereignty infrastructure” and engage internationally and bilaterally to ensure Canada’s interests are protected and realized into the future. We need to develop a strategic plan as Lt. Governor Treadwell suggested. If we do not, we will not have the ability to manage our Arctic resources and protect the marine environment. The Arctic Council is a very good venue to develop the international agreement.