Climate Change’s Latest Warning Sign: A Cargo Ship Just Used Russia’s Northern Sea Route in February

Russia’s northern Laptev Sea typically begins freezing in September. But last year, it didn’t begin until late October, with more sea ice than ever being thin and newly formed.

A commercial cargo ship has sailed Russia’s Northern Sea Route in February for the first time, which analysts say is the latest dire warning about global warming.

According to Russian shipping company Sovcomflot, the liquid natural gas tanker Christophe de Margerie made the trip from Sabetta, on the Kara Sea on Russia’s northern coast, eastward to Jiangsu, China, and back again, arriving back in Sabetta on February 19.

The company released a short compilation video of the two ships’ journey, in conjunction with partner Rosatom.

​This shipping route is typically idle during the long winter months between November and July, when it is typically packed with sea ice. However, due to global warming, so much of the polar sea ice is thin that the Christophe de Margerie was able to make the trip months early.

According to Sovcomflot, the ship began its journey on January 5, making the trip to the Bering Strait in just 11 days without needing icebreaker assistance. However, on the way back, Christophe de Margerie teamed up with the Russian Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory), which helped it through ice hummocks in the Chukchi Sea. At times, Christophe de Margerie was forced to proceed through the ice field astern.

“The current voyage of Christophe de Margerie significantly expands the navigation window in the in the eastern sector of the Russian Arctic, and confirms that year-round safe navigation is possible along the entire length of the Northern Sea Route,” Igor Tonkovidov, president and CEO of Sovcomflot, was quoted as saying in the release.

Likewise, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev hailed the accomplishment, noting that while the Northern Sea Route has expanded its annual cargo considerably in recent years, this voyage proves “in fact, the route can handle a lot more than that.”

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