Monday, September 17, 2012
Manitoba port could gain from "Northwest Passage" route as Arctic ice recedes
As the ice in the Arctic recedes to new lows, Canadian ports in the province of Manitoba may get a huge boost in traffic. The Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific is opening to huge ships as the ice melts and may become an attractive option to container shipping concerns looking for more efficient ways to haul goods.
The shortcut is a big draw, although the icy, stormy route with temperatures that can drop to minus-20 has heretofore been thought too risky for the tanker trade.
"Even if the sea ice has melted," University of British Columbia Prof. Michael Byers says, "you might still be dealing with air that's minus-10 or minus-20. When water sprays up, that water will freeze almost instantly when it hits the structure of the ship."
Despite the dangers, the shortened route is an attractive option. Going through the Panama Canal, a trip from Tokyo to London would be about 14,000 miles. Going through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal is a bit less, down to 13,000 miles. But using the Northwest Passage, the same trip would be only around 10,000 miles, translating into two weeks less travel time and a bigger profit for any shipping company willing to take the risk.
"It's not something we're seeing a lot of yet, but we're always on the lookout," says Jeff McEachern, executive director of the Churchill Gateway in Manitoba, which runs the port on behalf of Canada and OmniTrax, the U.S. freight company that purchased the port in the 1990s.
Much of Churchill's business is bound for destinations in North America, South America, Mexico, Europe or North Africa.
"We primarily serve the Atlantic, not the Pacific," McEachern says. "But we always have our eye on that opportunity."
For more of the Alaska Dispatch story: alaskadispatch.com
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