Officials from shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. announced Wednesday their company will begin transporting liquefied natural gas through the Arctic Ocean in 2018 — making it the first company in the world to tap the sea as a regular transit route.

Using icebreakers and tankers, the company plans to deliver LNG shipments to Europe and Asia from a gas plant to be built on the Yamal Peninsula in northern Russia, where gas producer Novatek is engaged in a joint LNG venture.

The Arctic Ocean route has long attracted attention as the shortest shipping route linking Europe and Asia. While it has so far been used occasionally during summer, the rapidly retreating ice shelf has made regular shipping via the route a realistic proposition.

A source at a major shipping company said the Arctic Ocean route will allow ships to go from Japan to Europe in about 29 days, roughly 10 days faster the current route through the Suez Canal.

Three icebreaker tankers are expected to transport LNG to Europe using the route year round, while they are expected to ship the gas to Northeast Asia only during summer.

The tankers, which will be built at a cost of roughly ¥100 billion, will be owned and operated jointly in partnership with a Chinese shipping firm. They are expected to transport about 3 million tons of LNG a year.

Using the new route will allow gas produced at the Yamal Peninsula to reach Europe in roughly 11 days, and Northeast Asia, including Japan, in about 18 days, the sources said.