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23 Sep 2011: Arctic Shipping Route
Will Soon Rival Suez Canal, Putin Says

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says that his country’s Northern Sea Route across the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean will soon rival the Suez Canal as a global trade route. “The shortest route between Europe’s largest markets and the Asia-Pacific region lies across the Arctic,” Putin told the Arctic Forum, a conference meeting in the White Sea port of Arkhangelsk. “I want to stress the importance of the Northern Sea Route as an international transport artery that will rival traditional trade lanes.” Putin noted that with the northern trade route now largely ice-free in summer, the number of test runs along the route is increasing. Last month, a tanker traveling from the U.S. to Thailand navigated the Northern Sea Route in a record eight days, and a vessel carrying 120,000 tons of natural gas condensate became the largest vessel ever to make the crossing. Requests for Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet to escort ships across the Arctic increased from four in 2010 to 15 this summer. “I have no doubt this is just the beginning,” said Putin, noting that a voyage across the Northern Sea Route from Europe to Asia is a third shorter than traveling through the Suez Canal. But environmentalists warn that a shipping rush in pristine Arctic waters poses serious environmental threats, and that Russia and other Arctic nations must vastly upgrade their ability to react to oil spills and other maritime accidents.

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