Arctic Bordering Nations Prepare For Busy Shipping Season While U.S. Lags

On August 23, 2015, “The Alaskan Arctic: A Summit on Shipping and Ports” met in Anchorage to discuss safe and reliable shipping practices in Alaska. The event drew attention to the need for the U.S. to invest in Arctic shipping as sea ice melts to “one of the lowest minimums on record.”

Nations such as Iceland, Russia, Norway, and Canada have taken steps to prepare for the anticipated busy shipping season.

For Iceland, those concrete plans include work with German investors to expand Icelandic port facilities to better serve the growing Arctic ship traffic.

Russia has the Port of Murmansk, plus a ring of other Arctic ports around the Northern Sea Route. Northern Norway has multiple Arctic ports. Canada has the deepwater port of Churchill on Hudson Bay.

In the meantime, the United States has fallen short of taking proper action to prepare for the changing landscape in the shipping industry.

In Alaska, the only full-service deepwater port that serves the Arctic is at Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, about 800 miles south of the Bering Strait, the narrow chokepoint that is the entryway from the Bering Sea to U.S. Arctic waters. Plans are on the table to expand Nome’s port to enhance its capability to serve Arctic-bound vessels, but funding and construction strategies remain unclear.

Icelandic President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson spoke at the event.

“The time for conceptual discussions, like those that have been going on for decades, is now over,” he said. “It is important that we realize that it is a completely transformed playing field and we have to measure up to the pressure for action in a short time. Everybody is now telling us that we have to put concrete plans and projects on the table.”

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