Norwegian Interest in Northern Sea Route
Still in Very Early Stages

The head of a Norwegian shipping firm that has expressed interest in establishing a transshipment port in western Alaska says his company does not currently operate vessels likely to operate there, apart from one single vessel.

“We operate ice class vessels but mainly not of a size large enough to be economical on distances we are considering in the Northern Sea Route,” said Felix Tschudi, of the Tschudi Shipping Co. in Kirkenes, Norway. “We are likely to charter in appropriate tonnage when exact need/demand has been determined.”

Tschudi also commented in an email this week that given the relatively recent interest in such routes, there has not been much coordination and common thinking with respect to developing routes and using ships that will have minimal impact of fisheries.

Tschudi’s comments came in the wake of an announcement from Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who said Tschudi’s interest was a tremendous step toward developing Alaska’s economic opportunities related to Arctic shipping.

Clem Tillion, a veteran commercial fishermen, and past chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, notes that interest of Norwegians and Icelanders in shipping through a Northern Sea Route goes back quite a few years.

“They are feeling out Adak… but the Northwest Passage isn’t open yet,” Tillion said. “Everyone is waiting until the Arctic Ocean has no summer ice… and how long a season that will be. It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Such marine traffic would be a great asset to the fishing industry, said Tillion, who currently represents the Aleut Enterprise Corp. on fisheries issues. “But all traffic is of advantage to the fishing industry as long as that traffic doesn’t disrupt the fishery itself,” he said. “When the northern route is open, we will discourage shipping through the shallow water. We would want to have shipping lanes laid out in areas of least interference” (with fisheries), he said.

Peggy McLaughlin, port director at Dutch Harbor, said that the Port of Dutch Harbor is often a port worth discussing when talking about marine shipping opportunities in Alaska. “It is the furthest north deep water, ice free port and because of its proximity to the Great Circle Route, we have a strong and well established export trade in marine shipping, supported by the fisheries,” she said.
To her knowledge, Tschudi has not formally contacted Dutch Harbor, but such an opportunity to responsibly expand business and Unalaska’s economic base would be welcome, she said.