CMA CGM will not risk Northern Sea Route

Shipping giant CMA CGM will not send its containerships on the newly navigable North Sea Route past Siberia, despite the “major competitive advantage” it offers with a warming Arctic, company chairman and CEO Rodolphe Saadé said Friday.

Speaking in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and government ministers ahead of the G7 summit, Saadé said CMA CGM is ruling out the Northern Sea Route because of its environmental risks.

“We make these choices to meet the needs of our employees and our customers, who are increasingly concerned about the environment,” said Saadé. “But above all, we make these decisions for the future, to leave our children a cleaner planet.”

Saadé said CMA CGM is pressing ahead with plans to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) power in its next generation of ultralarge container vessels (ULCVs) that will carry up to 23,000 TEU containers. The first of nine ships in that class could be delivered in 2020 and by 2022 the company plans to have 20 newbuild LNG powered ships at work.

They will not be taking advantage of the northern summer route afforded by warming climate in the high latitudes. The route between Asia and Europe shortens the sea time, and CMA CGM, Maersk and Russian operators have demonstrated its feasibility.

But CMA CGM officials say it’s not worth the environmental risk of involving one of their 500 vessels in a shipping accident in the high north, where emergency responses and spill containment would be far more difficult, if not impossible, in its remote locations and difficult sea conditions.

“The use of the Northern Sea Route will represent a significant danger to the unique natural ecosystems of this part of the world, mainly due to the numerous threats posed by accidents, oil pollution or collisions with marine wildlife,” according to the company.

With its position leading the industry with high-capacity container vessels, CMA CGM says it has already cut its carbon emissions by 50% per container shipped and is aiming for a further 30% reduction by 2025. Along with the efficiency of ULCVs, LNG-fueled ships are key to that strategy.

“Today, liquefied natural gas offers the best proven solution available to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of maritime transport,” reducing emissions of sulphur and fine particles by 99%; nitrogen oxides emissions by 85%; and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20%, the company said.

CMA CGM was the first container shipping company to successfully test a biofuel oil blend of 20% recycled vegetable oils and forest residues. Beyond LNG, the company says it is now establishing research partnerships to develop hydrogen as the next potential power source for cargo vessels.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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