First Solo Cargo Ship Traverses Arctic’s Northwest Passage

Another Arctic milestone was reached this week when a cargo ship fortified against ice completed a solo trip through the hazardous Northwest Passage. The MV Nunavik, owned by shipping firm Fednav and built in Japan, left Canada's Deception Bay on Sept. 19 and rounded Alaska's Point Barrow on Tuesday (Sept. 30).

The Nunavik, which can break through ice nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) thick, is the first cargo ship to sail through the Northwest Passage without an escort from icebreakers, Fednav said. The polar route to the port of Bayuquan, China, is about 40 percent shorter than the route through the Panama Canal, according to Fednav. Through fuel savings, the company expects to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,300 metric tons (1,430 tons). The ship is carrying 23,000 tons of nickel ore mined in Deception Bay in Canada's Nunavik province.

The melting of Arctic ice has opened up several new Arctic routes to commercial shipping. The first cargo ship to sail through the Northwest Passage completed the route in September 2013, with an icebreaker escort from the Canadian Coast Guard. And in 2012, a Russian ship sailed from Norway eastward to Japan. Though ice is thicker this year around the passage's islands and inlets than in previous years, the Nunavik never encountered any thick ice or chokepoints that hindered the crossing, according to the ship's blog.

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.