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The Beluga Foresight…………………A story hidden in plain sight

Edgar Allan Poe had it right. In his story The Purloined Letter he showed that one of the best ways to bury something was to hide it in plain sight, in the case of the letter on the mantelpiece shelf. The ruse has been exploited many times since, the latest in a television series aptly titled In Plain Sight which manages to entertain while baffling the viewer until the final denouement.

What has this to do with the price of oranges, and more particularly with shrinking Arctic ice and its tie-in with global warming?

Not hard to answer. The story of how two ships, German commercial vessels, became the first European to navigate the Northeast Passage was hidden in plain sight on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news web site on September 19 last. Because of its significance many expected to read more about the event in their daily newspapers next day, or the next, or the next next, a phrase reminiscent of Donald Rumsfield in his heyday.

So much for expectations! At least in Canada, where interest is focused on the Northwest Passage which may become ice-free for navigation in short order. “The Northeast Passage”? Never heard of it. Where and what exactly is it? It lies in the Russian Arctic and until last month foreign vessels were barred from attempting to cross it.

Why the change? According to environmentalist Alexei Kokorin of WWF Russia, "The area of really heavy ice in the Arctic is now 10 times smaller than 10 or 20 years ago. Global warming is becoming more and more dominant and it will affect all of us".

The Beluga Foresight, one of the two German ships, made the passage from South Korea to the Arkhangel in North Russia in record time.

According to the BBC news report:

"This is an event of huge strategic importance," said chief commercial officer of the Arkhangel Sea Port Viktor Vorobyov. "It will signal the rebirth of this shipping route, and the renaissance of the whole of the Russian North."

Mr Vorobyov hopes that his port will soon become a major hub for trans-continental shipping.

And, from the business point of view, this would make perfect sense.

Going via the Russian Arctic cuts the distance from, say, South Korea to the Netherlands by up to 25%. This means the time in transit can be cut by as much as 10 days.

It won’t happen overnight, but The Beluga Foresight’s voyage will go down in maritime annals as a major historical event. Should shipping times be reduced by the forecasted 25%--and this applies to both the Northeast and Northwest Passages—commercial interests are bound to enjoy the savings realized and, who knows, the price of oranges will also drop.


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