We critically examined the usage of Northern Sea Route (NSR) during the 8 year period from 2011 to 2018, using empirical data collected from the NSR Administration (NSRA), Center for High North Logistics (CHNL) and Equasis databases, together with scholarship available in the public domain to determine its commercial usage. We find that NSR transit numbers have generally been low (μ = 34 transits per year), varying between 71 transits per year (in 2013), 18 transits (in 2015, 2016), and 27 transits each in 2017 and 2018. On an aggregate basis, tankers and dry cargo ships have been the largest users of the NSR (123 and 122 transits respectively, accounting for 82% of all transits), followed by ice breakers, OSVs and SAR vessels (12% or 35 transits). Only 15 transits (5%) were by passenger, cruise and research ships followed by coastguard and fishing vessel (1%). Factors preventing its wider adoption include the comparatively lesser, but still existent presence of sea ice thus constituting a hazard to navigation, few cargo ports along the NSR, higher insurance premiums, inadequate coverage of charts, inadequate SAR facilities, the need for ice breaker assistance and resultant higher transit costs. Due to the presence of ice, NSR was open for navigation for < 155 days each year (132 days in 2018). Due to these pertinacious obstacles to safe navigation, the thinning of arctic ice has not resulted in waters sufficiently free of ice to enable safe commercially viable passage of commercial conventional cargo ships.
Rajagopal, S., & Zhang, P. (2021). How widespread is the usage of the Northern Sea Route as a commercially viable shipping route? A statistical analysis of ship transits from 2011 to 2018 based on empirical data. Marine Policy, 125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2020.104300