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MSC joins major lines in rejecting the use of Arctic routes

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has joined two other major lines, CMA CGM and Hapag Lloyd, in saying no to the use of the Arctic route as a new short cut between northern Europe and Asia.

Labelled the Northern Sea Route (NSR), the passage lies entirely in Arctic waters and has been trialed by other shipping lines seeking to take advantage of melting ice from global warming.

MSC said it is convinced that the 21 million containers moved each year for its customers can be transported around the world without passing through this Arctic corridor. The company affirmed that it will not explore or use the NSR between Europe and Asia for container shipping.

“As a responsible company with a longstanding nautical heritage and passion for the sea, MSC finds the disappearance of Arctic ice to be profoundly disturbing. Every drop in the oceans is precious and our industry should focus its efforts on limiting environmental emissions and protecting the marine environment across existing trade routes,” said Diego Aponte, president and ceo of MSC Group.

A surge in container shipping traffic in the Arctic could damage air quality and endanger the biodiversity of untouched marine habitats – a risk MSC said it is not willing to take.

In August this year, CMA CGM chief executive Rodolphe Saade had said his company’s containerships will not use the NSR.

CMA CGM stated that “we do not see the NSR as a commercial alternative to our existing network, which is defined by our customers’ demand, trading patterns and population centers.”

At present, the NSR is open without icebreaker escort for about three to four months a year. According to Maersk Line, it is not served by any transoceanic container services and is not presently considered competitive for this purpose.

Hapag Lloyd has also urged shipping companies to take a long and hard look at whether the time one might save from the shorter distances offered by using the NSR 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.

Jorg Erdmann, senior director sustainability at Hapag Lloyd, said Hapag Lloyd does not use the NSR as shipping routes right now, nor are there any plans to do so in the future.

Erdmann pointed out that the particles produced by the combustion of carbon-based fossil and fuels contribute to global warming, which can in turn harm ecosystems. And as long as there are not guarantees that these passages can be navigated without negatively impacting the environment, using them is “out of the question” for Hapag Lloyd.

MSC said its decision to avoid the NSR is complementary to the company’s broader strategic approach to sustainability. The company has completed a program to retrofit more than 250 ships in its existing fleet with the latest green technologies, cutting about two million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

The fleet improvement program of MSC has resulted in a 13% reduction in CO2 emissions per transport work in 2015-18, and will help the container shipping industry make progress towards the IMO’s 2030 CO2 targets.

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