A Chinese cargo ship specially built for the Arctic has embarked on its first Northern Sea Route voyage

The Tian En was purpose-built by COSCO Shipping Specialized to carry cargo in the Arctic.

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The Chinese cargo ship Tian En is sailing in the west of Hokkaido Island and is set to cross the Soya Strait on Saturday evening.

The Tian En is China’s first cargo ship specially designed for sailing in polar waters, and it’s sailing the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean for the first time. The route, part of an emerging network sometimes called the “Polar Silk Road,” links Asia to Europe through the Western Pacific Ocean, the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean.

The vessel is fully loaded with 37,000 cubic meters of wind power equipment being imported by European countries including France, the Netherlands and Sweden. It will travel more than 18,500 kilometers to its destinations during a voyage scheduled to last more than a month.

Since the route opened, the manufacturer of Tian En, COSCO Shipping Specialized, has connected with nine European countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belarus, Russia, Denmark and Norway. Its eastward travel reaches Far Eastern countries including China and Japan.

Traveling through the Arctic route can greatly shorten the travel time from China to northwest Europe. Compared with the traditional route traveling through the Suez Canal, sailing from Shanghai Port to Port of Hamburg in Germany through the Northeast Passage shortens the distance by 2,700 nautical miles. Choosing the Northeast Passage, the traveling time from Murmansk, a Russian city, to Shanghai will shorten by 16 days, which can save 20 percent fuel comparing with the traditional route.

In 2017, the volume of goods transported through the Northeast Passage increased more than ten-fold from 2013.