Four Ways Arctic Shipping Can Cause Harm
The Arctic ice is melting 12% faster than a decade ago. While this situation opens up previously unavailable routes for marine transport in the Arctic Ocean and can result in the possibility to sail the region all year round, cutting down travel time, it can also be fraught with danger. Here’s a quick look at four possible drawbacks of Arctic shipping routes becoming more popular.
Due to insufficient data, the Arctic routes are poorly charted and even some of the existing maps are hundreds of years old, making them highly unreliable. The process for charting the region to modern standards is taking a long time and the ever-shifting landscape of the Arctic is not helping to move it along.
According to research, the average shipping route has shifted 180 miles north into areas that couldn’t be navigated before. With weather patterns also affected by climate change, it’s getting hard to determine when the Arctic shipping seasons starts or ends and what kind of ice will be encountered. This could cause navigational problems for ships, putting the crew and passengers in danger.
Lack of Search & Rescue
Easier access close to the North Pole provides a fascinating opportunity for tourism growth. Data from federal monitoring shows that the number of voyages in the Arctic has risen by more than 400% in the past three-and-a-half decades. Cruise ships able to carry large numbers of passengers are venturing out into the icy waters, but there is not enough emergency infrastructure in place to deal with possible disasters.
Countries with Arctic lands are teaming up to develop ways to assist each other in need. However, when faced with thousands of miles of uncharted waters where there is no sign of civilisation, help might not be able to come in time. Harsh winds might disrupt rescue helicopter traffic, and other means of transport may delay rescuers for days, leaving people floating in freezing waters. Not to mention, that there is even a lack of suitable icebreaker vessels available furthermore hindering search and rescue operations if the case arose.
Along with saving people, another concern that arises after an accident in the Arctic sea is the pollution. If a ship is damaged or sinking, its fuel tank might break, spilling harmful fuel into the water, not to mention the spillage coming from oil and LNG tankers coursing the Arctic route.
There is not enough pollution prevention equipment that can reach the remote region to clean up or contain pollution discharge in a timely manner. Using novel methods like the release of oil-eating bacteria into the water could also pose challenges as they would be slowed down by ice-cold temperatures which also lower the oil biodegradation rates.
Danger to Marine Life
Oil spills would cause have a very negative impact on marine life, but it’s not the only way opening new Arctic shipping routes in the Arctic can harm them. The loud noise from the ships can distress mammals living in the sea and prevent them from finding sustenance as some of them use echolocation to hunt. According to researchers, narwhals, belugas and bowhead whales are particularly threatened as their very sensitive to disturbances and can’t easily relocate in case their habitats are disturbed by increased shipping activities.
Along with animals, the whole ecosystem can be affected. An onslaught of ships from all over the globe could introduce invasive species. Various molluscs and tunicates cling to a vessels hull and travel along with the ship. If introduced to for now pristine Arctic aquatic environments, they could foul and overgrow natural habitats of marine life. This could destroy various species unique to the Arctic.
How will the shipping community fight these issues, what solutions are available and what regulations are waiting in the pipeline to protect the Arctic? Experts, policymakers and maritime industry leaders will provide answers at the 4th International Green & Smart Shipping Summit in Rotterdam on 8-9 October 2019. Make sure to be there – register now: www.gssummit.org