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With global warming leading to increased traffic to a vulnerable Arctic, the U.S. Coast Guard is proposing a 4.6-mile-wide shipping route through the Bering Strait to try to protect the region. Any accident in the sensitive area can be a major problem, so the Coast Guard mapped out a voluntary two-way route — akin to a highway for ships — said agency project officer Lt. Kody Stitz. Last year ships went through the Bering Strait 440 times, twice the 2008 number, according to a study in the journal Marine Policy.
Retired Coast Guard Vice Admiral Roger Rufe, former operations chief for the Department of Homeland Security, said that's an indication that climate change has made the region more passable for ships. The company that owns the first ship to go through the Northwest Passage unescorted by icebreakers says it expects to save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially on a route from northern Quebec to China. But the ice melting also "means that ice is more unpredictable and the weather is far worse because the ice is what keeps the waves down," said Marilyn Heiman, U.S. Arctic director for the Pew Charitable Trusts and co-author of the Marine Policy study. “An oil spill up there would be really devastating," Rufe said.
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