MSC has said it would not consider shipping on the Northern Sea Route, including the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage on environmental grounds.

The company said an expansion of Arctic shipping could increase the emissions of so-called black carbon – physical particles of unburned carbon which can settle on land or ice, as well as compromising air quality and accelerating the shrinkage of Arctic sea ice.

Risks such as navigation incidents, fuel spills, air quality and altering the ecological balance and biodiversity of the marine habitat beneath the surface of the sea also outweigh any commercial opportunities to make a short cut between North America or Europe and eastern Russia or Asia, the company said.

MSC CEO Søren Toft said it was an obvious decision.

“MSC will not seek to cut through the melting ice of the Arctic to find a new route for commercial shipping and I consider this a position the whole shipping industry must adopt,” he said.

“Some of our peers have already made the same commitment to put the preservation of the Arctic environment ahead of profits. The Northern Sea route is neither a quick fix for the current market challenges, nor a viable long-term strategy.”

The company said minimising, and subsequently reducing, carbon dioxide emissions is a key pillar of its approach to investing in sustainability.

MSC said these concerns should not be overlooked amid the current debate over the impact of the COVID pandemic and Suez Canal disruption on supply chains and regards Arctic route exploitation as an unwarranted step in the wrong direction.

MSC Group executive vice-president maritime policy and government affairs Bud Darr said: “Attempting to open new navigation routes which skim the polar ice cap sounds like the ignorant ambition of an 18th century explorer, when today we know that this would pose further risks to humans and many other species in that region, as well as worsen the impact of shipping upon climate change.

“MSC supports the decarbonisation targets of the UN International Maritime Organization, including complete decarbonisation of shipping, and sees no overall merit in using this potential trade route.

“The risks and impacts outweigh the benefits of the shorter transits. There are no shortcuts toward genuine decarbonisation of shipping and this is a shortcut that should definitely be avoided.”