Friday, September 03, 2010

The Northeast Passage -Shorter, Faster, Avoids Somali Pirates and Adds to Maritime Security Concerns

Interesting look at an effect of global warming that may put a dent in piracy off Somalia found at "Bye pirates, hello Northeast Passage" :
Climate change may have delivered a solution to the risk faced by ships and crew passing through the waters of Gulf of Aden. A cargo ship bearing Hong Kong flag carrying 41,000 tons of iron ore will become part of maritime history as it sails from Norway to China through Russia's arctic passage instead of the pirate-infested Somalian waters.

Although Nordic Barents is not the first ship to pass through the Arctic wasteland, it becomes the first foreign-registered vessel allowed by Russia to make a voyage between two non-Russian ports. The ship's owner aims to prove that the route would become a viable alternative to the longer southern route from Europe to Asia. Nordic Barents is scheduled to leave the small Norwegian port of Kirkenes and head towards the Chinese port of Dalian. If the trip proves successful, the route enters one more step in competing against the Suez Canal sea route.
Yep, during the appropriate seasons -

A report of the first modern commercial voyage from the Barents Observer "Route through Northeast Passage faster than expected":
The first high-tonnage tanker to take the Northern Sea Route from Europe to Asia has arrived Pevek on the Chukotka Peninsula one day earlier than expected.

It took the 100 000 tons tanker “Baltica” 11 days to cover 2500 miles. The vessel is expected to arrive in Ningbo, China, in the first half of September, web site Portnews.ru reports.
The fact that the tanker has covered the distance in less time than expected, shows the potential of the Northern Sea Route when it comes to cutting back on transport time and increasing cost efficiency of oil and gas deliveries to Asia and regions in the Pacific Ocean, the ship owner Sovcomflot says.
See also here.

Not without risk, though, as The Old Salt Blog reports on a collision between two Russian ships on the route.

Naturally, this new route poses a lot of concerns, both environmental and, for the U.S., national security:
Arctic melting is leaving new coastline and waterways up to the north, but some Arctic strategy experts are concerned that polar ice is melting faster than U.S. military planners are gearing up for what an open-water arctic will mean for U.S. security.
***“If you think strategy relates somehow to means and investment in means then we don’t have a strategy,” said Robert Laird, a security consultant based in Washington and Paris. “You have five stakeholders in the Arctic,” he said. The U.S., Russia, Denmark, Norway and Canada each have Arctic territory. “The only country that’s not strategic in this is us.”
It's not like the U.S. Coast Guard has been silent on the ramifications of this situation- here are a couple of links to DoD Live Blogger Roundtables in which former Commandant Adm. Thad Allen discussed the situation: Part 1 and Part 2.

The U.S. has three (yes, only 3) ice breakers suitable for operating in the Arctic environment and two of those are over 30 years old.

National Security and Homeland Security Interests in the Arctic

1. The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests. These interests include such matters as missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.
2.The United States also has fundamental homeland security interests in preventing terrorist attacks and mitigating those criminal or hostile acts that could increase the United States vulnerability to terrorism in the Arctic region.
3.The Arctic region is primarily a maritime domain; as such, existing policies and authorities relating to maritime areas continue to apply, including those relating to law enforcement.[1] Human activity in the Arctic region is increasing and is projected to increase further in coming years. This requires the United States to assert a more active and influential national presence to protect its Arctic interests and to project sea power throughout the region.
4.The United States exercises authority in accordance with lawful claims of United States sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the Arctic region, including sovereignty within the territorial sea, sovereign rights and jurisdiction within the United States exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf, and appropriate control in the United States contiguous zone.
5. Freedom of the seas is a top national priority. The Northwest Passage is a strait used for international navigation, and the Northern Sea Route includes straits used for international navigation; the regime of transit passage applies to passage through those straits. Preserving the rights and duties relating to navigation and overflight in the Arctic region supports our ability to exercise these rights throughout the world, including through strategic straits.
The Spring 2010 issue of the Naval War College Review contains an article by Rear Admiral David W. Titley, U.S. Navy, and Courtney C. St. John, "Arctic Security Considerations and the U.S. Navy's Roadmap for the Arctic":
The Navy understands the wide range of security considerations in the Arctic region and that the effects of climate change in the Arctic will influence the geostrategic landscape.
While the Navy has a rich history in the Arctic, several challenges must be met
to ensure successful operations in the future. These include the lack of support
infrastructure and logistics support, environmental hazards such as drifting sea
ice and icing on exposed surfaces, and communications difficulties. Antiquated
nautical charts, drifting ice, low visibility, and the paucity of electronic and visual navigation aids hinder safety of navigation. A lack of coastal installations
also contributes to the difficulty of search and rescue (SAR) operations. The only American-owned deepwater port near the Arctic basin is Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutian Islands.
More on the Arctic Roadmap here. And a USNI article Arctic Melt: Reopening a Naval Frontier. Of course, the topic was raised in the Sea Services' A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower:
Climate change is gradually opening up the waters of the Arctic, not only to new resource development, but also to new shipping routes that may reshape the global transport system. While these developments offer opportunities for growth, they are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources.

Previous USNI Blog posts that are related: CHINA: Linking the South China Sea and the Arctic Ocean and Arctic Diplomatic Meet Gets Frosty.

UPDATE: China's Arctic claim "or claim jumping?"

I guess it's time to get busy. Where's the funding?

Earlier post on Russia's Arctic Sea ambitions here.

More on this later.
UPDATE: Northern Passage vs. Suez Passage:

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