The world's largest container shipping company will follow explorers who sought sea passages through the Arctic half a millennium ago, though likely with more success thanks to global warming. In what NPR calls a turning point, Denmark-based Maersk will send the first container ship—a 42,000-ton vessel housing 26 crew and a stash of frozen fish, per CNN—from Vladivostok, Russia, to St. Petersburg via the Arctic as a means of determining whether such a route might be worthwhile in the future. "The ice is melting and more things are becoming possible," says the founder of the Arctic Institute think tank, noting the Northern Sea Route could cut two weeks off a trip from Asia to Europe. But Maersk claims it isn't interested in saving time just yet.
The Venta Maersk's journey to begin later this month, which would otherwise require passage through the Suez Canal, is "a one-off trial designed to explore an unknown route for container shipping and to collect scientific data," Maersk says, per the Independent, adding the course isn't considered "an alternative to our usual routes." That's likely because there are no Arctic ports for security and transshipment options, per NPR. Plus the Venta Maersk—complete with a reinforced hull that can cut through a few feet of loose ice—can only make the journey three months of the year, unless it follows an icebreaker. That might not be the case forever, though. Indeed, activists fear environmental damage from large ships will only speed Arctic ice melt. (Read more Arctic stories.)