The steady rise in global temperatures has been melting the polar ice pack and opening up potential new trade routes—a development that inspired Nordic countries to propose a rail line to newly accessible ports and led the U.S. Coast Guard to invest in more icebreakers for the extended Arctic shipping season.
One of the world's largest ocean carriers will be absent from the rush to seek polar pathways, however. CMA CGM announced in August that it would not send any of its 511 vessels on the Northern Sea Route.
The route, a shortcut between Asia and Europe that runs the length of Russia's Siberian coast, has become navigable much of the year due to the effects of global warming. Because it is much shorter than the transit via the Suez Canal, it saves weeks of time and offers a competitive advantage for carriers shipping freight between the continents.
But dispatching cargo ships through the region's unique natural ecosystems would boost the risk of accidents, oil pollution, or collisions with marine wildlife, CMA CGM Group Chairman and CEO Rodolphe Saadé said in a statement. Those impacts could pose a danger to the area's largely unexplored biodiversity as well as to the Arctic's role in regulating ocean currents and global climate patterns, he said.
"We make these choices to meet the needs of our employees and our customers, who are increasingly concerned about the environment. But above all, we make these decisions for the future, to leave our children a cleaner planet," Saadé said. "These are brave, bold choices, which go far beyond purely business decisions."