Will Hapag-Lloyd sail container ships through the Arctic?

More than 170 years ago, the Franklin Expedition got stuck in the pack ice of the Arctic – which had devastating consequences for all 129 of its members. Today, cruise ships regularly venture into the Arctic Ocean. After the French shipping company CMA CGM’s recent announcement that it would not sail the Northwest Passage for environmental reasons, the issue is once again being hotly debated in the container shipping industry. What is Hapag-Lloyd’s stance regarding a possible route through the Arctic? We put this and related questions to Jörg Erdmann, Senior Director Sustainability at Hapag-Lloyd.

Q: The sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking, and the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage are already ice-free in summer. What will this mean for the container shipping industry?

The significance for container shipping is still very limited because the window of time in which this region can be navigated continues to be relatively narrow, which is why using it regularly would be rather difficult at present. What’s more, since container ships operate in liner services, we must take a long and hard look at whether the time one might save from the shorter distances offered by using the Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage would result in genuine economic benefits, especially when taking into account the draughts of larger ships or the fact that ships would likely need to have the appropriate ice classes. Thus, all things considered, the desirability of using these passages much be very carefully weighed from both the ecological and economic perspectives – which is why we always intensely scrutinise such issues.

Q: How is the Arctic politically regulated? Are there environmental regulations like the ones in the Antarctic?

On the international level, for example, the Arctic Council was founded in 1996 to act as an intergovernmental forum. This forum initiates R&D projects pertaining to things like the transport sector. The council includes representatives from the states bordering the Arctic as well as of the indigenous peoples who live in the region. The council also coordinates a number of environmental initiatives, such as the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) and the Conservation of Arctic Flora & Fauna (CAFF) working group. In addition, there are many smaller groupings that have economic, political or even nautical priorities in the Arctic, as well as numerous national regulations of the states bordering the Arctic, some of which have very unique requirements.

Q: Although the French carrier CMA CGM doesn’t intend to sail the Northwest Passage, a Maersk vessel already sailed through it in 2018. Will Hapag-Lloyd sail through the Northwest Passage or the Northeast Passage?

Hapag-Lloyd does not use the Northwest Passage or the Northeast Passage as shipping routes right now, nor are there any plans to do so in the future. The particles produced by the combustion of carbon-based fossils and fuels contribute to global warming, which can in turn harm our ecosystems. As long as there are no guarantees that these passages can be navigated without negatively impacting the environment, using them is out of the question for Hapag-Lloyd, as well.

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