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Measurements taken earlier this month show the annual sea ice minimum was 5.1 million km2, the sixth-lowest Arctic sea ice minimum on record. The Arctic has lost around 40% of its sea ice cover in the last three decades, but the last seven years have seen the seven lowest amounts of ice recorded. This has led a number of leading scientists to suggest the Arctic will lose all its summer ice at some stage, with current trends suggesting this will happen by 2050, if not before.
The melting ice has opened new Arctic shipping routes in the summer months – the Northwest Passage (north of Canada) and the Northern Sea Route (off the Russian coast). The dangers of using these, however, were highlighted by an accident earlier this month involving a tanker carrying diesel fuel on the Northern Sea Route. It was struck by floating ice and began taking in water, although the owners say no diesel leaked out. Although the ship had permission to sail in this region, she didn’t possess the ice-class corresponding to the conditions on the Northern Sea Route at this time of the year. This is yet another proof of the dangers of Arctic shipping operations, of the need for improved environment protection in the region and, last but not least, of the difficulty to enforce regulation in the remote sea routes of the Arctic region.
T&E’s shipping officer Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘This accident illustrates how the supposedly ice-free waters of the Arctic Sea in the summer months are often still dangerous. The International Maritime Organisation must work swiftly to implement a robust “Polar Code” to protect crews as well as the extremely fragile environment of the Arctic. The consequences of this accident may have been limited, but we shouldn’t wait for the next one to be a catastrophe of unthinkable magnitude in order to implement proper rules for shipping in the High North.’