Northeast Passage

Northeast Passage

Russia controls one of the greatest seaways in the world. Within Russia it is known as the Northern Sea Route, while the rest of the world calls it the Northeast Passage. Only a handful of expedition vessels have ever transited this seaway, but recent changes in the summer sea ice conditions mean this historic and fascinating sea route is now accessible to a few suitably constructed expedition vessels.

The indigenous peoples of the north coast of Siberia were undoubtedly familiar with sections of this seaway but it wasn't until 1878-1880 that Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiold completed the first ever transit. Earlier attempts to find a route in the 16th century had been thwarted by either ice or politics or both. The Russian empire had been expanding eastwards and in an attempt to control and tax the burgeoning fur trade, all foreign shipping was banned from 1616 until 1753. Commercial interest in the route was revived in the late 19th century when several trading vessels reached as far as the Ob and Yenisey Rivers and initiated trade with the interior as it proved much easier to ship timber, fur, gold and grain down these rivers than carry them overland to markets in the west.

In 1914-15 the Imperial Russian Navy icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach made the second transit of the Northern Sea Route in an attempt to render the seaway navigable for strategic purposes. In 1932 the Soviet Union formed the Northern Sea Route Administration. It was headed up by Otto Schmidt who established a number of Polar research and weather stations along the Siberian coast and on the many islands along the way. Personnel at these stations were responsible for reporting weather and ice conditions as well as carrying out invaluable research into the regions unique birds, plants and animals.

At the height of the Soviet administration, large convoys of ships assisted by powerful icebreakers plied this route carrying much needed supplies to Eastern Russia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s spelled the end of this operation and the number of vessels using the Northern Sea Route dwindled, but there has been renewed commercial interest from international shipping companies in this route which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans due to the huge savings in both time and fuel that it potentially offers.

Trips in
Arctic 2021.
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Jul 18 - Aug 11, 2021 (25 days)
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