The Cosco-owned 19,150dwt multi-purpose ship Yong Sheng was one of the first vessels to complete a commercial transit of the Northeast Passage this year when she sailed from Dalian, China to Rotterdam, a transit which took just 35 days compared with 48 days for the traditional southern route via the Suez Canal.

The 2002-built ship was also the first Chinese commercial vessel to make use of the Passage. The waterway is expected to set a new record for activity this year, the fifth year of commercial transits, with Russia having granted permission for 370 ships to operate in or sail through the passage, compared with 46 full transits in 2012 and only four in 2010.

Analysts are forecasting rapid growth in use of the shortcut, with global warming expected to increase the shipping season from around five months at present to eight months by 2020. Because of this, Atomflot, the operator of Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, estimates 15 million tons of cargo will transit the Northern Sea Route by 2021. Although China has been late to take advantage of the route, Professor Qi Shaobin of China’s Dalian Maritime University noted that opening up the Arctic ‘will change the market pattern of the global shipping industry because it will significantly shorten the distances among the Chinese, European and American markets’. JS

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