Much is being made of the voyage of the Yong Sheng, a Chinese cargo ship slowly making its way across the top of Russia and Europe toward its eventual destination, the Dutch port of Rotterdam. If the ship successfully reaches port, it will become the first commercial Chinese ship to transit the Northern Sea Route, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by way of the Bering Strait and Russia’s northern coast.
But the Yong Sheng may just be riding a wave of hype.
While the journey is certainly a first in a very distinct way, it’s also just another vessel using the route, which has seen an immense increase in traffic in recent years. The Wall Street Journal said in mid-August that 393 ships had been issued permits to travel the Nothern Sea Route (NSR) this year. That number swelled to more than 450 just a couple of weeks later, in tandem with the annual summertime retreat of Arctic ice.
Some are using it as an indicator of things to come, pointing to the Yong Sheng voyage as an example of ways in which an increasingly “ice-free” Arctic might be exploited.