Saturday, September 19, 2009

Arctic trail blazers make history

By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Arkhangel

Breaking through the thin ice on the Northeast Passage

Two German ships have become the first Western commercial vessels to navigate the Northeast Passage - a shipping route which goes from Asia to Europe around the Russian Arctic.

One of the captains told the BBC that their journey opened new, exciting possibilities for the whole international shipping community.

Valeriy Durov, shipmaster of The Beluga Foresight, is your archetypal captain: a short man with a big moustache and a sense of great authority in his voice.

"I was slightly surprised by what we saw," he told us as we stood on the bridge of his cargo lifter.

"There was virtually no ice on most of the route. Twenty years ago, when I worked in the eastern part of the Arctic, I couldn't even imagine something like this.

"I think it will soon be possible to navigate the Northeast Passage all year round. We were escorted by an ice-breaker but, frankly, we could have done without it. This is great news for our industry."

Mr Durov's ship had just arrived in Arkhangel, a major sea port in north-western Russia. It was met by a cold, unpleasant drizzle and grey autumnal skies.

It will signal the rebirth of this shipping route, and the renaissance of the whole of the Russian North
Viktor Vorobyov, port official

The numerous potholes on the port's berths had turned into deep puddles. To get to the mooring wall, you had to jump over them, navigating around endless stacks of pipes, wood planks and containers rather like a character in an old-fashioned computer game.

The scene was anything but glamorous. But it deserved so much more.

A real breakthrough

The Beluga Foresight is one of those ships that make history.

Experts in Russia say its journey from South Korea to the Russian North was a real breakthrough.

The route of the Northeast Passage

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