SHANGHAI – China’s biggest shipping company intends to launch regular services through the Arctic Ocean to Europe, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, as global warming makes the route viable and Beijing steps up its northerly economic ambitions.
State-owned industry giant COSCO has only twice sent a vessel through the Northeast Passage, once in 2013 and again this year.
In July, subsidiary COSCO Container Lines said ship that conducted both voyages, the ice-strengthened M.V. Yong Sheng, took 27 days to cover the 7,800 nautical miles from the port of Taicang, near Shanghai, to Rotterdam. This was nine days faster and 2,800 nautical miles less than the usual route through the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal.
“Enormous expenditures on fuel, canal transit, security guard, personnel and vessel wear and tear can be saved,” it said at that time. “Cost-friendly routes will be extremely significant to COSCO Group in the current difficulties of (the) global maritime industry.”
The European Union is China’s biggest trading partner.
“There is an intention to open a regular line in the future and people are discussing it,” a spokeswoman for COSCO Container Lines said Wednesday, without giving a specific timetable.
Her comments came after the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that Chinese experts and officials had hailed the route as a “golden waterway” for trade.
COSCO released a statement saying the company would “continue to promote normalization of operations for the Arctic’s Northeast Passage.”
China does not border the Arctic and has no territorial claim there, but Beijing joined the Arctic Council as an observer two years ago.
Observers say Beijing recognizes the area’s potential for scientific research and its strategic value.
“With global warming and accelerated ice melting in the Arctic, summer voyages in the Northeast and Northwest Passages in the Arctic have become possible, with commercial development and environmental protection issues attracting the constant attention of international society,” COSCO said.