Ice Race – The NORTHEAST PASSAGE – the dream of the new Marine Silk Road


fishing grounds in the Indian Ocean have been kidnapped by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa. There’s nothing we can do when faced with guns. When we came up on deck armed only with knives and axes, they were already on board. One was here, another was there. One on the deck, and another on top, at the bridge. So there was basically nothing we could do. What could we do against those guns? After that horrific incident, I fear sailing. But I came to know a good captain and his men, and they changed my mind, so I have gotten on board again. But I won’t go to the Indian Ocean again, no matter how much money I could make. One person standing on guard for an ally will make a thousand enemies fearful. One Korean warship, the Lee Sunshin, will make a thousand enemies tremble with fear. We will secure the safety of Korean ships in the Gulf of Aden. From the national security point of view, it is better to diversify energy sources, because if you depend on one region heavily, it makes you more vulnerable in times of crisis. We have to consider that. Also, I think that the amount of energy provided by the Middle East will decrease in the future.

And that’s the reason why we should try to find new energy sources we demand, like Russia or somewhere in Central Asia, or some other regions. We will endeavor to make everything the best. So, especially the vessel, it’s the first time. As I know, for a foreign vessel, it’s the first time to pass on this one route. Before, it was only Soviet vessels who had passed through this route, so for foreign vessels, it is the first time. In the near future (or, “Soon…”) it will be totally totally ice-free across the North Pole. And what I can say is, for the foreseeable future, at least in the next fifty years. So this standard that you mention is very important, and the standard, first of all, means that the ship will need to be able to go through ice (quite heavy ice), and it will need to be also capable of coping with drifting ice, packed ice, and it must also be taking special precautions for being able to maneuver to avoid, for example, icebergs, which can be very dangerous.

So not only on the construction (although the ship has to be looked at especially for operating in such waters), but also the operation and having adequate information about the ice formations and such. Then they went more to the north, and they discovered a new land. Spitsbergen, it’s now called. But Barents called it also Het Nieuwe Land, “the New Land.” And at that part they couldn’t find a way further to the north, and Willem Barents had the idea for going more to the east, northeast, North of Novaya Zemlya. Several countries claim partial ownership of the Arctic Ocean, but this is an issue for diplomats to resolve. In Russia there is a common expression, though it’s not quite a saying: “Those who can swim in the Arctic Ocean are its real owners.” What’s most important, we could say, is that we’re able to sail on the Arctic Ocean all year round. The Murmansk Port is the gateway to the north and an ice-free harbor.

Ships can freely come and go to the rest of the world through the year. Not only shippers from Murmansk but global carriers use the port. Not long ago, all the nuclear-powered icebreakers which explored the routes to the North Pole and the Northern Sea Route belonged to Murmansk shippers. We can say Murmansk is at the heart of the Northern Sea Route. When everything proceeds without obstacles, the shortest sea route from Russian to Canada and the US will be created, and it will pass through Murmansk. We thought in the beginning that the ship might need near the full power of 21,000 horsepower. But surprisingly, she could sail at less than 13,000 horsepower, with a speed of more than 6 knots in the severe ice to the west of Wiangel island. This I believe will not be the last expedition.

We have worked so well and achieved so much. We held an international conference in Oslo to report on what INSROP had discovered. Technically speaking, a North Pole marine route is not impossible. Since satellites can constantly monitor ice conditions, there isn’t any problem in the summer. But when we conducted research, it was clear we needed icebreakers in the winter. This sea route is very attractive because, compared to the route through the Suez Canal, it cuts the distance between Europe and Korea and Japan by up to forty percent. We have learned a lot from these projects. One of them was mentioned earlier. There’s no real benefit to using the Northern Sea Route throughout the year. But we use it in certain seasons, with summer being the most beneficial. We can use the route in winter, but ships can’t go very fast due to the ice. So now there are voices saying use the southern route only in the winter. As long as humans expect speed, safety, and eco-friendly services, this market will expand.

In a place where voyages were not possible due to heavy ice, new sea routes have been created. We need to get rid of our old way of thinking and collect accurate data on Arctic ice. Creation of a new route will make shipping companies realize that they can bring economic and environmental benefits at the same time. If all the parties related to the new route work together, the global market will grow. Traditional ships must follow icebreakers, which chop a path through the ice in front of them. But his icebreaker supertanker combines both functions in one ship. So the ship is able to break through the ice and carry freight at the same time. Best of luck to Pohang’s Yong-il Bay! We signed a memorandum of understanding with FESCO, the largest state-owned ocean carrier in Russia October 2008. Railroad construction has started at Yong-il Bay in Korea.

The railway network will begin in Korea, cross Siberia, and then connect with the TCR in China and the TMR in Mongolia, and go on to the TSR in Europe. That enables this new Port of Yong-il Bay to feed Busan Habor as a international terminal heading for North America and Europe, the distant places. Moreover, I expect the New international container habour of Young-il Bay would be very competitive when it finds its role as a foothold-port in the East Asia Once the Northern Sea Route is developed, it will bring financial benefits but will also raise some issues for countries using the route. Some issues will be ecological changes or environmental problems affecting the Arctic. If those countries that take responsibility for the Arctic share basic research on it, in the long run the Northern Sea Route will be environmentally sound and sustainable. It’s important that each country pay for its own contributions to basic research. That’s why the Araon to contribute to global society by conducting international co-research, to build up a basic infrastructure for Northern Sea Route research.

Thanks to global warming, the Northern Sea Route can open. As the ice melted, a new sea lane was created. It’s good that ships can travel over the North Pole, but climate change in the extreme north brought by global environmental change is not always good. Many Russian meteorologists and researchers from the Russian Academy of the Sciences are conducting research into the issue. The melting of ice in the Arctic is an environmental issue and it may cause many problems in the future. This is the Arctic Ocean. And you can see that we have waters coming from both the Pacific via Bering Strait, and the Atlantic through Fram Strait. And in the Canada Basin, these waters form layers, determined primarily by their salinity. It is important to people who live in Canada and other countries such as Korea, China, and Japan, who are also Pacific nations. We are affected by global change together. Before I sail out, I pray for the safety of the Korean and foreign seamen on board. I pray that we all come back in one piece.

I don’t expect any problems coming back home. That’s all I want. Piracy found in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, and in the Malacca Strait makes the Northern Sea Route more attractive. When the situation gets worse in the south, expectations for an alternative route will rise. Shipping companies will invest money and develop new ships suitable for voyages atop icy waters, instead of losing their ships and crew members in the south. I am sure that the current situation in the south is a primary factor influencing shipping companies to choose alternative routes or to give up on the southern route. Now the most significant change in the Canada Basin and the Arctic Ocean is the significant decrease in ice extent. You can see by the different colors where the ice edge was in 1980, 1997. But now in 2007, it’s a marked decrease. And this is affecting the waters north of Canada and Siberia. All the freezing land layers might melt away.

We might have to import bananas from Siberia instead of those from Africa. Is it fine for us to use melting ice? For example, let’s suppose that the ice in the Arctic Ocean melts down enough to create marine routes. It doesn’t melt anymore and global warming stops at the right moment. Let’s suppose that new marine routes open up. If these things happen, that would be a great thing for human beings. It is human wisdom that controls everything at just the right time. Such things don’t happen if we don’t take up a challenge with new things..