Helsinki, Finland -- Tomorrow's agenda includes interviews with Aker Arctic's director Mikko Niini, Arto Uuskallio of ABB and Kari Laukie of MacGregor. The topic: Arctic shipping. Depending on who you ask, this is hot.
That's not to say all commercial shippers need to start talking to their marine insurers about getting polar classification. The same AP article quotes a US Coast Guard Rear Admiral: "If you talk to them [shipping companies], they will say "...Everything is time-distance for us, and this is too risky." And the President of the Chamber of Shipping of America set an even more dour tone when he asked "What point will there be an assurance that there's not going to be any non-navigable ice in the Arctic?" No time soon, he suggests.
Meanwhile, however, the Russians, Finns and Norwegians are blazing new trails through polar ice. At a technical seminar I attended last Friday, engineers and superintendents of ice-going ships from just these countries bristled at some of the over-the-top requirements classification companies expect of them. One said: "They expect us to engineer a ship that can sail over an island, if needs be."
Class companies get their daily bread by putting a value on uncertainty. The fact is, so far, arctic shipping is just too uncertain. Without enough tests and experience to know what works and what doesn't, the class companies err on the side of caution. Thus icegoing ships are probably being designed too heavily, outfitted too expensively and run too slowly, which puts a damper on what could otherwise perhaps be new profitable routes across the Arctic.