On October 18, the Swiss-Italian Mediterranean Shipping Company – the world’s second-largest shipping company by container vessel capacity – said it would not use or explore the Northern Sea Route, joining CMA CGM, Maersk, and Hapag-Lloyd among the ranks of global shipping companies that have sworn off using the Northern Sea Route due to concerns about the environmental impact of increased Arctic shipping. Maersk is the only one of these companies to caveat its rejection of using the Northern Sea Route, with a spokesman saying that the company does not “currently see the NSR as a viable commercial alternative to existing east-west routes.” Together, these companies account for 43.1% of the global container shipping market. Their decision not to use the Northern Sea Route puts a temporary dampening effect on the revenue and strategic value that Russia hopes to gain from transit fees and increased use of the passageway for commerce.
Environmental concern surrounding the commercialization of the NSR was heightened after a recent research expedition found that microplastics are present in water and sealife samples taken along the entirety of the route, indicating the vulnerability of the ecosystem. While this revelation alone is unlikely to have precipitated MSC’s decision, corporations are concerned about the reputational risk of being seen to disregard the potential for environmental damage caused by their activities.