MSC commits to avoiding Arctic route, citing environmental concerns


MSC has reaffirmed its commitment to avoid considering the Northern Sea Route, including the Northeast and Northwest Passages on environmental grounds.

According to the carrier, an expansion of Arctic shipping could increase the emissions of so-called black carbon – physical particles of unburned carbon which can settle on land or ice, as well as compromising air quality and accelerating the shrinkage of Arctic sea ice.

The route also exacerbates risks of navigation incidents, fuel spills, air quality and altering the ecological balance / biodiversity of the marine habitat beneath the surface of the sea, it added.

These dangers outweigh any commercial opportunities to make a short cut between North America or Europe and eastern Russia or Asia for MSC.

MSC CEO Soren Toft stated: “As a responsible company, this was an obvious decision for us. MSC will not seek to cut through the melting ice of the Arctic to find a new route for commercial shipping and I consider this a position the whole shipping industry must adopt.

“Some of our peers have already made the same commitment to put the preservation of the Arctic environment ahead of profits. The Northern Sea Route is neither a quick fix for the current market challenges, nor a viable long-term strategy.”

The company believes that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and Suez Canal disruption on supply chains, exploration of the Arctic route would be an “unwarranted step” in the wrong direction.

The shipping line first made its commitment to avoiding the Arctic route in 2019, while reducing CO2 emissions forms a key part of its approach to investing in sustainability.

MSC has looked to improve container shipping energy efficiency through the deployment of almost 24,000 teu vessels in the sector’s largest fleet investment programme and is actively exploring a range of new fuels and technologies to achieve a zero-carbon future and help mitigate climate change in the process.

Bud Darr, executivie vice president of maritime policy and government affairs at MSC Group, said: “Attempting to open new navigation routes which skim the polar ice cap sounds like the ignorant ambition of an 18th century explorer, when today we know that this would pose further risks to humans and many other species in that region, as well as worsen the impact of shipping upon climate change.

“MSC supports the decarbonisation targets of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO), including complete decarbonisation of shipping, and sees no overall merit in using this potential trade route.  The risks and impacts outweigh the benefits of the shorter transits. There are no shortcuts toward genuine decarbonisation of shipping and this is a shortcut that should definitely be avoided.”