Feeds

Media 're-open' North Eastern Passage

Thermageddon fever disappears 70 year trade route

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

One of Russia's commercial maritime trade routes for the past 70 years has been "re-opened" by a press hungry for dramatic Global Warming scare stories - but who failed to check the most basic facts.

I've traced this fascinating example of "eco-churnalism" - peddled by both BBC Radio and its website, the Daily Mail, The Independent, Reuters and many others - back to its origins, with a press release from a German shipping group. But first of all - what on Earth is the Northern Passage?

Northeast Passage

Northeast Passage in Red

Also called the Northeast Passage or North Sea Passage, it's a trade route that in summer months links the North European and Siberian ports to Asia, around the Arctic Circle. Orient-bound traffic heads east, then South via the Bering Strait. The route offers significant gains over the alternatives via Suez or the Cape, it's shorter, quicker and cheaper. But until technological advances in the early 20th Century it was considered too hazardous for commercial operation.

Since the 1930s the route has seen major ports spring up, carrying over 200,000 tons of freight passing through each year, although this declined with the fall of the Soviet Union.

But none of this ever happened, we learned on Saturday. The Independent reported that the journey had been traversed for the very first time, proclaiming that two German ships had completed "the first commercial navigation of the fabled North-east Passage", proclaiming it "a triumph for man, a disaster for mankind". BBC Radio followed suit.

Look out polar bears: a freighter is about to hit you

Others have followed the BBC.

Climate change: too good to be true

It didn't take long to trace the origin of the story. On Wednesday, German shipping group Beluga claimed "the first non-Russian commercial vessels to make it through the Northeast Passage from Asia to Europe".

You can still read their press release, here. Journalists failed to challenge Beluga's claim that the Northeastern Passage was "formerly impenetrable", but bloggers had debunked it within seconds.

(See An Englishman's Castle here - and the EU Referendum blog here and here.)

North unearthed a fascinating account of the past 80 years of this sea route (pdf, 17pg) by a retired mariner Jan Drent, who made the Europe to Asia Northeast Passage himself. Drent writes that the Soviet Union offered to open the route to global commerce in 1967, but with war in the Middle East closing the Suez, Russia didn't want to offend its Arab allies.

In their haste to bring us Thermageddon, journalists now simply manufacture the evidence. But wasn't the recent warming period - which started began in the mid-1970s and with temperatures peaking in the late-1990s - a contributory factor? Arctic Ice has recovered the past couple of years, but it's still down on 30 years ago.

As it happens, the thaw has helped, but isn't the primary reason, according to maritime historians.

"In the past ten years voyages between the northern coast and Japan and Canada have demonstrated how modern ice-strengthened vessels and contemporary ice forecasting have extended the navigation season."

Ignore all that, however. If the BBC is to remain trusted, we can only conclude that these are phantom ships, failing to penetrate a previously impenetrable trade route, dropping off phantom cargo at phantom port towns. ®

Andrew warmly welcomes your mail.

Bootnote: An earlier version of this article put much of Siberia's Northern coastline outside the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately for Siberians, it's not.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?