LONDON — Early next week two German-owned container ships will arrive in Rotterdam from Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, having taken only one month to make the voyage. That’s much faster than usual — but then they didn’t take the usual route down through the South China Sea, past Singapore, round the bottom of India, through the Suez Canal (pay toll here), across the Mediterranean and up the west coast of Europe. They just went around the top of Russia.
It’s the first-ever commercial transit of the Northeast Passage by non-Russian ships, and it shortens the sea trip between East Asia and Europe by almost a third. It’s the melting of Arctic Ocean ice that has made it possible, although for the moment it’s only possible for a couple of months at the end of the summer melt season, when the Arctic ice cover has shrunk dramatically. But it is a sign of things to come.
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