Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China COSCO Sailing More through Melting Northeast Passage Might Irritate Canada

Troubled ship?

(Photo : COSCO) COSCO Yong Sheng

Chinese state-owned shipping giant COSCO is taking advantage of the very early onset of the annual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice to sail three cargo ships through the Arctic Ocean this summer.

Unrelenting global warming is making this formerly difficult route more financially viable. COSCO's ships will sail the Northeast Passage that goes north of Russia. Analysts said China sees the opportunity to change global trade flows in its favor since the Arctic route can significantly shorten travel times between Asia and Europe.

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COSCO's move north is being aided by the fact the extent of Arctic sea ice at the peak of the summer melt season now typically covers 40 percent less area than it did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Arctic sea ice extent in September, the seasonal low point in the annual cycle, has been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade," reported the World Meteorological Association.

WMO also said global temperatures for the first six months of 2016 have been so high that this year will likely the hottest year in recorded human history due to climate change trapping greenhouse gases.

COSCO'S MV Yong Sheng, a general cargo ship, left the Chinese port Tianjin last week headed for the UK through the Northeast Passage. Two more COSCO ships, the MV Tian Xi (a multipurpose heavy lift vessel) and the MV Xiang Yun Kou (a heavy load carrier) are to navigate the Northeast Passage in August. COSCO's long-term aim is to normalize services on the Northeast Passage route.

Canada, however, might mind COSCO's using the Northeast Passage without its permission since Canada considers this area its waters and not international waters as China claims. This is an issue eerily similar to that in the South China Sea which China claims as its own despite conflicting claims from five other Asian nations.

A U.S. Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12 invalidated China's "nine-dash line" and with it China's illegal ownership claims. The court ruled in favor of the Philippines, which filed the arbitration, and said China infringed on Philippine sovereignty. It said the South China Sea is international waters.

That issue might become more contentious with the continuous world warming. WMO revealed June 2016 was the 14th consecutive month of record heat but also the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average.

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