Historic Sea Route Opens Through Canadian Arctic Waters

Published Sep 25, 2013 8:25 AM by The Maritime Executive

For the first time ever, a bulk carrier is using the North West Passage as a transit trade lane, when transporting coal from Vancouver in Canada to Finland. The historic transit is shorter than traditional shipping routes and will not only save time, fuel and CO2, but also increase the load of cargo with 25% compared to the Panama Canal. Nordic Bulk Carriers A/S, the Danish pioneer, is once again behind a new business adventure.

The international shipping industry is these days witness to a historic event, when a vessel for the first time ever is sailing from Vancouver in Canada to Finland through Arctic waters. One of the world’s few modern ice-class bulk carriers - MV NORDIC ORION - will carry a cargo of 73,500 tons of coal via the so called North West Passage through Arctic waters to Finland. A Danish pioneer in operating ice-classed bulk carriers Nordic Bulk Carriers A/S is behind the historic North West Journey.

“We are very excited about this historic voyage, which has been a dream and ambition for several years,” says Christian Bonfils, Managing director in Nordic Bulk Carriers A/S. “We have deep respect towards these important Arctic waters and have planned this voyage in close coordination with Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard to ensure a safe execution. 

Reducing time, fuel and CO2 emissions 

The North West Passage across the Arctic is shorter than the traditional route through the Panama Canal and thereby has the potential to generate important saving in both time, fuel and CO2 emissions. 

Christian Bonfils, explains. “The North West Passage shortens the distance with 1.000 nautical miles. This results in a reduction in fuel consumption and transportation time – and it also means lower CO2 emissions. The fuel savings alone add up to approximately USD 80,000.” In addition this new route allows full utilisation of the ships capacity and thereby carries 25% more cargo than through the Panama Canal.

It takes more than an average ship to sail the North West Passage. The trip across the Arctic is a challenging task that requires great experience, navigational skills and modern world class ships. In fact, there are only a few vessels which can handle the task. 

“MV NORDIC ORION is an ice-class 1A ship,” explains Christian Bonfils. “These ships are designed and built to operate in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.

It is estimated that the North West Passage will be open for transit voyages for approximately two months per year depending on the weather and ice conditions.

Nordic navigation takes a historical step 

The Danish company Nordic Bulk Carriers A/S opens another chapter in the proud tradition of Nordic navigation.

“We follow the MV NORDIC ORION expedition closely and with great interest. This expedition once again emphasizes the strength, quality and long history of the Nordic maritime traditions. We are of course also very proud that a Danish company is the pioneers behind this voyage of discovery,” says Jan Fritz Hansen, Executive Vice President of the Danish Shipowners’ Association. 


The vessel departed from the Port of Vancouver on September 6th. The route was planned in close coordination with Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard to ensure a safe execution. The ship was issued an Arctic Pollution Prevention Certificate by Transport Canada before departure to ensure compliance with Canadian regulations. 

The opening of the North West Passage as a commercially predictable trade lane opens up new opportunities for the important Arctic region and for the coal, minerals and shipping industries.

MV NORDIC ORION is an ice-class 1A ship. This is the highest conventional ice-class, and it is one of the only ships that can sail the route due to ice filed waters. She was built in 2011 at Oshima Shipyard in Japan, and her sister ship MV NORDIC ODYSSEY, which also has performed several Arctic trips, was the first Panamax bulk carrier on the Northern Sea Route.