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US, Russia propose Arctic ship traffic measures

25 Jan 2018 21:28 GMT
US, Russia propose Arctic ship traffic measures

New York, 25 January (Argus) — The US and the Russian Federation have submitted a joint proposal to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish a system of two-way routes for ships in and around the Bering Strait. The system would facilitate increasing traffic flows as a result of rising economic activity in the Arctic, the US Coast Guard (USCG) said today.

Declining ice coverage in the Arctic has raised the possibility of further natural resource exploration in the region, and increased the viability of shorter shipping routes, the countries said in the proposal.

The countries considered fresh traffic guidelines to be necessary because "over the preceding decade the US and the Russian Federation have observed and responded to a steady increase of interest in Arctic shipping activities which can be attributed to a climatic trend towards reduction of ice in the Arctic Ocean and Chukchi Sea", the proposal said.

The summer of 2012 broke the record for minimal ice coverage in the Arctic, in turn breaking the previous record set in 2007, the proposal said.

Located in the territorial waters off the coasts of Alaska and Russia's Chukotskiy Peninsula, the routes are recommended to help ships avoid the numerous shoals, reefs, and islands outside the routes and to reduce potential marine casualties and environmental disasters, said the USCG.

The proposed two-way routes will be voluntary for all domestic and international ships, said the USCG.

A wide range of vessel segments currently operate in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea region, although oil tanker traffic is light. Fishing vessels account for roughly half of total activity. Dry bulk carriers are the second most common vessels in the region, followed by containerships, refrigerated cargo ships, vehicle carriers, general cargo ships, open hatch cargo ships, and then chemical/products tankers, according to vessel traffic data from 2014-2015 compiled by the US and Russia.

The region in question is split between US and Russian territorial waters, but the two countries submitted the proposal to the IMO, the UN body that regulates the high seas, as ships with flags from a wide range of countries use the channel.