Ship sets record for earliest crossing of notorious Northwest Passage through Arctic

The melting of sea ice means a journey that claims the lives of numerous explorers in the past is getting easier and easier

Will Worley
Sunday 30 July 2017 20:11
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The Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica docked in Nuuk, Greenland, after traversing the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
The Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica docked in Nuuk, Greenland, after traversing the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

A Finnish ship has set the record for the earliest crossing of the notorious Northwest Passage, the Arctic route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Icebreaker MSV Nordica was at sea for 24 days, travelling more than 6,214 miles to make the record.

It arrived at Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on 29 July, having set off from Vancouver, Canada on 5 July, the Associated Press reported.

The previous record was set by Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis L. St-Laurent in 2008. It arrived in Point Barrow, off Alaska, on 30 July, having also set off on 5 July from Newfoundland.

But the route the Nordica travelled, in the opposite direction, was even longer.

Passengers on board the Nordica reported seeing sea birds, seals, whales and a polar bear.

Ships have been able to make the journey earlier in recent years because of a reduction in Arctic sea ice, which scientists believe is one of the clearest symptoms of climate change on the planet.

Icebreaker-type ships tend to be the only vessels which can make the journey, with conventional crafts struggling in the Arctic environment.

While the ice has reduced because of climate change, significant amounts still remain, making it near impossible for normal vessels to make the journey.

The route retained a mythical status among seafarers – with some perishing in the process of trying to navigate it – until 1903, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached Alaska from the Atlantic.

There have been just 411 recorded Northwest Passage transits since then, including the Nordica.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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