Northwest Passage will never be major sea route, historian says

There might be more marine traffic moving through the Northwest Passage in recent years but the international controversy over the sea route is, nevertheless, overblown, says historian Gwynne Dyer.

There might be more marine traffic moving through the Northwest Passage in recent years, but the international controversy over the sea route is, nevertheless, overblown, says historian Gwynne Dyer.

The Northwest Passage will never attract a large number of cargo ship traffic even though there is less and less ice in the Arctic waterway, Dyer told delegates at a recent conference on Arctic issues.

"I think it's very unlikely the Northwest Passage is ever going to become a major sea route," he said at the Ottawa gathering.

The routes making up the Northwest Passage are narrow and shallow in several places, and it's doubtful maritime insurers would even provide insurance for large single-hulled ships to go through the waterway, Dyer said.

For most points of departure and destinations, Dyer said, the Northern Sea Route in Russia is just as good as the Northwest Passage.

"The thing about the Northern Sea Route is it's already almost all open all year, and as soon as we get a little bit more warming and the ice around Novaya Zemlya melts, it will be open about eight or nine months a year along the coast," he said.

Canada and the United States have long disputed the ownership of the Northwest Passage. Canada maintains it's a Canadian waterway while the U.S remains firm on its stance that the passage is an international waterway.

The U.S. already has support on the matter from the European Union, said Rob Huebert, an Arctic sovereignty expert with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"They agree with the Americans and disagree with us on the terms of the status of the Northwest Passage," Huebert said.

Dyer said he does not believe Canada's claim to the passage will be recognized internationally. Instead, he suggested Canada should team up with Russia to ensure they both have control over shipping in their respective Arctic waterways.

"The negotiating objective should not be finally to get global recognition of our exclusive control of the Northwest Passage — because that's dreaming in Technicolor — but to, you know, fight our corner hard enough that when we finally actually concede that these are international channels, we have the right to police them," he said.