For hundreds of years the Northwest Passage (NWP) has been considered one the most elusive routes in the shipping industry. Promising faster shipping times and grandiose cost reductions, the waters are ultimately treacherous, with thick ice dampening the hope and dreams of many a ship owner.
During the second half of September last fall, a Danish-owned ice-class bulk carrier, the Nordic Orion, became the first large commercial vessel to traverse the Northwest Passage since the US tanker SS Manhattan in 1969. Embarking from Vancouver in Canada in early September, sailing in waters abutting Alaska and thereafter transiting these Canadian Arctic waters, the Nordic Orion deposited its cargo of 73,500 tons of coking coal at the port of Pori in Finland. For the Danish owner of the vessel, Nordic Bulk Carriers, the voyage proved to be another feather in its cap. In 2010, Nordic Bulk had become the first non-Russian company to sail the Northern Sea Route—spanning the Arctic coast of Russia—when it shipped iron ore from a port in Norway to China.
It may come as a surprise to most Americans—and even to many Alaskans—that the Port of Nome is a very busy place. Between May and December, hundreds of vessels make port calls at Nome. And, driven by such geopolitical trends as high demand for gold and other minerals, commodities transshipment, increased oil exploration, and even international tourism, Nome officials are striving to keep port development ahead of demand.