A Chinese cargo ship specially constructed to plow through ice is expected to arrive to its first destination in Europe on Wednesday, having made its maiden voyage through the Arctic Ocean.
Tian En, a multifunctional ship that was built by state-owned COSCO Shipping last year, is currently entering the English Channel and will reach the Port of Rouen in France tomorrow, before heading to the Netherlands and Sweden. The ship is delivering 37,000 cubic metres of wind power equipment and will sail back to China loaded with goods from Europe, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV+.
Tian En left Lianyungang Port in east China's Jiangsu Province on August 4 and crossed the Bering Strait on August 17 to begin its first voyage along the Northeast Passage. The shipping lane, which Russia calls the Northern Sea Route, runs between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean along Russia’s northern coast.
China has dubbed the route the Ice Silk Road or Polar Silk Road and, as the Arctic's ice melts, expects it to become an alternative to the traditional shipping route that runs through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.
Although the route brings challenges, such as icebergs and pack ice, Tian En’s captain Chen Xiangwu told Xinhua that it is “the shortest route linking northeast Asia and northern Europe, and, more importantly, it's a safe one”.
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The Arctic sea route received a boost last year when it was included in the Belt and Road initiative, an ambitious plan first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to boost China’s trade link with some 70 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.
COSCO says the Arctic sea route can cut shipping times between Chinese and European ports by as many as 12 days and help save up to 300 tonnes of fuel.
The company was the first in the world to send a container ship, named Yong Sheng, through the Northeast Passage in 2013 and by last year had dispatched 10 ships on 14 voyages through the Arctic between China and Europe.
In June, COSCO said it would step up Arctic shipping by sending more than ten vessels to Europe this summer.
Cargo traffic along the Northeast Passage has increased recently due to joint Russian and Chinese participation in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project on the Yamal Peninsula. The first Yamal LNG cargo, which ran via the Arctic sea route to the Chinese port of Jiangsu Rudong, was delivered in July.
In its first Arctic policy released in January, China said it would explore and develop the region’s resources together with Arctic states while respecting the tradition and cultures of the local peoples and conserving the natural environment.