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Japan shipping giant plans first regular Arctic route

Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines on Wednesday announced plans for the world's first regular commercial shipping route through the Arctic Ocean, starting in 2018, in an attempt to reduce sailing times.

TOKYO: Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines on Wednesday announced plans for the world's first regular commercial shipping route through the Arctic Ocean, starting in 2018, in an attempt to reduce sailing times.

The firm said it would initially start moving liquefied natural gas from Russian's huge Yamal LNG project to markets in Europe and Asia on a trio of icebreakers, as part of a joint venture with China Shipping (Group) Co.

The specially designed ships, built by South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, would cost a total of about 100 billion yen ($990 million), Mitsui said.

"This is an unprecedented project in the Arctic route," the Japanese shipping giant said.

The Arctic voyage -- impassable for conventional ships during much of the year -- could knock about one-quarter off the usual travel time through the Suez Canal, or about 10 days.

The Arctic has seen growing international interest in recent years, as global warming causes the Arctic ice cap to melt and opens new navigation routes that allow for the use of previously inaccessible raw materials.

French energy group Total was also involved in the Yamal project, which was expected to have a capacity of 16.5 million tonnes per year and see the commissioning of 16 icebreaker tankers, each able to transport 170,000 cubic metres of gas.

"The project ensures production and marketing of the Russian Arctic's vast natural gas reserves," Total said.

In early January, Canada began construction on the first route linking the Arctic Ocean to the North American continent, which should speed up oil and gas exploration in the desolate region.

The Arctic is believed to hold about 22 per cent of the world's unexplored conventional hydrocarbon resources.

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