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Coal vessel navigates Northwest Passage

World Coal,

For only the second time in history, and four decades since the oil tanker SS Manhattan first sailed through the Northwest Passage, a large freighter vessel has navigated the perilous Arctic route.

The Danish-owned Nordic Orion, a 75,000 DWT coal-bearing Pannamax vessel, left Vancouver, British Columbia, on September 17. Bound for Finland, the ship announced it had passed Greenland on Friday 27 September, making it the first vessel to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage since 1969.

The 738 ft Nordic Orion has traversed waters once impenetrable with thick ice. Harsh Arctic conditions have limited shipping on the passage to mostly small cargo vessels and ice-breakers. The Danish vessel, built by a Japanese shipyard in 2011, has a strengthened hull to cope with floating ice.

Cost savings

With ice on the passage melting, the new route could result in much lower fuel costs in transporting bulk materials, such as coal. Nordic Bulk Carriers (NBC), the Danish operator of the Nordic Orion estimated the route saved US$ 80,000 of fuel.

In a statement, NBC said: “The Northwest Passage is more than 1000 nautical miles shorter than the traditional shipping route through the Panama Canal and will save time, fuel, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but even more importantly will increase the amount of cargo per transit by 25%.”

The depth of the Panama Canal limits the size of ships and cargo. By avoiding the Canal, the Nordic Orion was able to carry close to full capacity – transporting 73,500 t, according to the NBC.

The metallurgical coal onboard the vessel will be delivered to Finnish steel producer, Ruukki Metals. “By using [the Northwest Passage], the voyage is around a week shorter than using the Panama Canal, so overall we are paying less in freight costs,” Sakari Kallo, senior vice president of metals production at Ruukki, said.

The Nordic Orion reported it encountered just one choke point at Peel Sound in northern Canada; however, the route is not without risks. Knut Espen Solberg, a former Arctic mariner and a specialist with Norwegian shipping services company DNV, said, “Shipping through the Northwest Passage is a high-risk, high-gain strategy.”

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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