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The combination of seasonally ice-free waters and turmoil along traditional trade routes is diverting vessels into the Arctic. The first non-ice class Panamax containership has now received a permit for the Northern Sea Route.

In what constitutes a first for Arctic shipping, a large conventional container ship has received a permit for Russia’s Northern Sea Route (NSR).

The 21-year old 4,253 TEU Panamax class box carrier, SFT TURKEY, operated by Hong Kong-based Safetrans Line, received a NSR permit on May 30, 2024.

The NSR has seen a number of voyages by smaller ice-capable container ships, including Maersk’s VENTA MAERSK in 2018, over the past decade, but SFT TURKEY would become the first non-ice class ship to carry containers across the Arctic Ocean.

The official permit reveals the vessel’s intention to complete a roundtrip voyage across the Arctic, sailing from Europe to Asia and then back to Europe along the route between August and October. Without any ice classification SFT TURKEY is limited in where and when it can travel on the NSR. Non-ice class vessels are generally permitted on the route between July 1 and November 15, though it can vary across the route’s 28 designated zones.

The vessel will be able to navigate independently, without an icebreaker escort, in ice-free waters. In light ice conditions the vessel will require icebreaker assistance.

Lots of new vessels on the route
Just weeks earlier Safetrans also received a permit for its slightly larger Panamax container ship, FLYING FISH 1. In contrast to SFT TURKEY, that vessel holds an Ice 1 classification allowing it to operate independently in ice-free and light ice conditions. Safetrans Line’s container ships are part of what is setting up to become a breakout season for Arctic shipping.

The route’s administrator has already issued permits to six non-ice class LNG carriers. Officials also confirmed that Russia plans for a repeat of last summer’s crude oil shipments when a combination of non-ice class and light ice-class tankers carried 1.4 million tons of crude from Europe to Asia. In addition to FLYING FISH 1 and SFT TURKEY the Arctic will also see the return of other container ships. Chinese NewNew Shipping Line, owner of multiple ice-class container ships, intends to complete up to a dozen voyages this summer. One of its vessel’s, NEWNEW POLAR BEAR was involved in an incident surrounding the Balticconnector gas pipeline and two subsea telecoms cables between Estonia and Finland in 2023.

Source : highnorthnews.