“China warms to Arctic melting” by Lloyds List Comment*

*Moderator's Note: Thanks to Dr. Aldo Chircop, CFPS Research Fellow, Professor of Law & Graduate Studies Coordinator Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, who has recently returned from China, for bringing our attention to this article.  Originally posted by Lloyds List Comment on 2 March 2010.

"China warms to Arctic melting" 

News that China has woken up to the strategic importance of the Arctic will come as no surprise to many in the shipping industry. (Read SIRPRI article “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic” by Linda Jakobsen here.)

Commercial activity in the region has been growing for several years and the promise of lucrative natural resources inevitably meant that political interest would eventually be aroused internationally.

The Stockholm International Peace Institute this week trumpeted their findings that Chinese interest in the region is growing because melting ice will ultimately provide it with shorter shipping routes and allow access to the Arctic's oil and gas reserves.

Such conclusions are hardly ground-breaking but they do confirm the region’s status as one of the key battle-grounds for business and politics over the coming decades.

The race to control arctic resources promises to be an interesting spectacle, but for the shipping industry it also promises a series of technical and regulatory hurdles.

In view of the importance of this growing sector Lloyd’s List has dispatched its technical editor to join a Sovcomflot shuttle tanker in the Barents Sea to report first hand on the challenges and opportunities that face the industry.

His daily blog which goes live tomorrow will offer a unique insight into the day-to-day operations of life on board a ship in the arctic and promises to lift the lid on just how demanding ice navigation really is.

Global warming may be opening up a number of opportunities but operating in ice-covered waters will continue to be a technically demanding business that requires careful and considered regulatory controls.

As we report today, Canada has already moved ahead with plans to oblige all foreign and domestic vessels to report to authorities as they sail into northern Canadian waters and this is just the start of a likely clamp-down on shipping activity in the region.

When the International Maritime Organization’s sub-committee of ship design and equipment met in London last week they made significant strides towards concluding a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters.

Their work is a welcome and necessary step towards protecting both the unique environment and ships operating under extreme conditions, but it is unlikely to be the final word in regulation as shipping activity increases.