Ice-class container vessel

Containerized shipping between Asia and Northern Europe amounted to 15.1 million TEU in 2015.[1] Both the Northern Sea Route and the North-West passage have the potential to serve as maritime shortcuts between the world’s economic centers, reducing shipping distances by up to 40%.[2] It is forecasted that 5-15% of China’s trade, estimated at $500bn, could pass through the Arctic by 2020.[2,3]

As of January 2015, 358 small container vessels are already of ice-class certification.[4] These vessels and the equipment they carry are designed to withstand the rough and cold conditions of the Arctic, for example with their reinforced hulls and additional engine power to get through the ice.[4,5,6,7] 

Most Arctic voyages are currently undertaken by bulk carriers shipping cargo of low relative value. Significant investments are needed for very large ice-class container vessels to expand into these routes. Meanwhile, lack of suitable ports and maritime infrastructure, as well as the potential environmental risks to pristine areas, have kept very-large ice-class container vessels out of demand.

When will it become accepted practice that very large ice-class container vessels traverse the Arctic routes?

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[1] WorldShipping (2017), Top Trade Routs
[2] Ørsts, Hansen, Grønsedt, Lindstrøm, Graversen and Hendriksen (2016), Arctic Shipping – Commercial Opportunity and Challenges; Ørsts, Hansen, Grønsedt, Lindstrøm, Graversen and Hendriksen (2016), CBS Maritime
[3] Vidal, J.; (2014), Russian Arctic city hopes to cash in as melting ice opens new sea route to China; , The Guardian
[4] Solakivi, T., Kiisi, T. and Ojala L. (2019) 'On the Cost of Ice: Estimating the Premium of Ice-class Container Vessels', Maritime Economics & Logistics, 21(2), pp 207–222.
[5] ARCOP (2006), Arctic Operational Platform, Working Paper D2.4.2, Marine Insurance Coverage for the Sea Carriage of Oil and Other Energy Materials on the Northern Sea Route: Moving from Theory to Reality. By E. Gold and L.Wright, Fridtjof Nansen Institute
[6] Lasserre, F. (2014) Case studies of shipping along Arctic routes. Analysis and profitability perspectives for the container sector, Transportation Research Part A, 66: 144-161.
[7] Erikstad, S.O., Ehlers, S. (2012) Decision Support Framework for Exploiting Northern Sea Route Transport Opportunities, Ship Technology Research, 59(2): 34-42.
More information:
Mihajic, M., Tuxen, M. (2018) Vistula Maersk, first in the series of Seago Line’s new ice-class vessels, named Danish Ship of the Year 2018 by Maritime Denmark Media Group
Solakivi, T., Kiiski, T., Ojala, L. (2017), On the cost of ice: estimating the premium of Ice Class container vessels
Ghosh, S. (2019), Understanding Design of Ice Class Ships
Konning Beals, R. (2018) Melting Arctic prompts more attempts to move cargo by faster northern route
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2016) Review of Maritime Transport 2016. United Nations Publications, New York.


By Matthew J. Spaniol