South Korea shipping goes over the top

Hyundai plans Arctic route for cheaper, faster cargo. Prediction: Nuclear powered vessels on the horizon.
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor
Still comes in handy. The Arctic Ocean is melting, but shipping still requires some help from Russia's nuclear-powered icebreakers, such as the one above.


Global warming has its advantages: Like Russia and more recently China, South Korea is starting to use the Arctic Ocean as a shipping route that cuts down on the distance and cost of sailing south and through the Suez Canal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported late last month that Hyundai Glovis, the shipping arm of South Korea's Hyundai Motor, would soon dispatch an oil tanker from a home country port to Rotterdam in Holland, via the northern route along the Russian Arctic coast. As Businessweek noted:

"A vessel sailing via Russia can now make this 15,000-kilometer (9,300 miles) journey in 30 days, compared with the 40-day, 22,000-kilometer trip via the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal."

It's a feasible route because the once prohibitive ice has significantly melted.

The journey is not, however, completely free of ice. It will still require an escort by Russia's nuclear-powered ice breakers, adding cost. But within three to five years icebreakers might not be necessary during summer months, according to some estimates.

"We want to be one of the first to develop this in order to take a leading position when the route becomes more commercially viable," said Kim Sung Ho of South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

Russia has been plying the Arctic for years using the world's only fleet of nuclear powered icebreakers. Ironically, those nuclear vessels have helped ship natural gas to Japan to replace closed nuclear electricity generators. China earlier this year announced plans to develop nuclear propelled ships for polar exploration, citing nuclear's superior reliability and mileage compared to conventional fuel.

Prediction: Watch for South Korea to also add nuclear power to its shipping fleet.

Photo from RIA Novosti via Wikimedia

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