First Chinese Ship Sails the Arctic 'Mediterranean'
August 19, 2012 • 8:25PM

The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) is the first Chinese ship to have sailed from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Arctic territory of Russia on the Northern Sea Route. The vessel docked in Reykjavik, Iceland Aug. 14, after having traversed the route through the Russian Arctic. Expedition leader Yang Huigen said that they had expected much more ice than they had encountered.

"To our astonishment, most of the Northern Sea Route is open," Yang said. He indicated that Beijing was mightily interested in the "monumental change" in the polar environment. "It took only 10 days to sail from the East Siberian Sea to the Barents Sea, and during that time there was only real pack ice for only seven days," said Egill Thor Nielssen, an Icelandic scientist who sailed aboard the Chinese vessel.

The Chinese are more interested in this route now, having found the passage so easy, Nielsen said. China has also applied to become a member of the Arctic Council. Although primarily utilized to support the Chinese research in Antarctica, the Xuelong has also made four trips to the Arctic via the Bering Strait.