CMA CGM said its container ships will not traverse Arctic waters as part of a pledge to protect the region's environment.
The promise from the fourth-largest boxship company in the world comes as the region undergoes major climatic change, resulting in thinner ice and making for easier sea navigation.
The world's superpowers are eyeing the Arctic for oil and mineral exploration, as well as increasing use of the Northern Sea Route along the coast of Siberia. The Yamal LNG project, a huge natural gas liquefaction project in Russia, will have 15 ice-breaking tankers by next year. Last year, China declared itself a "Near-Arctic" state as it outlined its own policy for use of the Northern Sea Route.
The world's largest shipping company, Maersk, made its Arctic splash last year by sending a small container ship on a voyage between Russian ports carrying a load of frozen fish, the first transit of a container ship across the Northern Sea Route.
Maersk said the sailing was just a trial of Arctic shipping, with no plans to make it an alternative route for reaching Europe from Asia. But Maersk is reportedly eyeing a coastwise service between Russian ports in the Arctic.
High North News reported that China's COSCO Shipping plans up to 14 vessel transits of general cargo ships along the Northern Sea Route. Arctic environmental groups have requested that COSCO not use high-sulfur fuel oil on the trips due to the resulting soot and sulfur pollution from the ships.
But CMA CGM Chief Executive and Chairman Rodolphe Saadé will sign a French-sponsored agreement that aims to leave the Arctic region alone. As part of that, Saadé said none of the company's 500 ships will use Arctic waters for navigation, "despite the major competitive advantage this route represents for shipping companies."
CMA CGM said it is signing the agreement because 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."
CMA CGM also took the opportunity to reiterate its plans to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) to power its future ships. By 2022, CMA CGM will have 20 LNG-powered vessels in its fleet.
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