This Day In History: September 28

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On September 28, 2018, the cargo ship Venta Maersk docks in St. Petersburg, Russia, more than a month after departing from Vladivostok on the other side of the country. The successful traversal of the Russian Arctic was a landmark moment for the international shipping industry, as well as a sobering reminder of the extent to which the Earth's ice caps had melted.

The search for a fast way to move cargo from one end of Eurasia to the other by sea had begun centuries ago, and was a major driver of European exploration of North America. Until the 2000s, the fastest means of making the journey was to go around South Asia and reach Europe via the Suez Canal. As climate change led to a decrease in ice around the North Pole, however, opportunities arose to for shipping companies to use waters that were previously impossible to navigate.

The Venta was not the first ship to make the journey through the Russian Arctic, and it needed assistance from an icebreaker for several days. The Northern Sea Route, as it is commonly called, is still not a regular shipping lane, and it is only usable by "ice-class" ships like the Venta. Nonetheless, the Venta's journey, and shipping companies' recent investment in building more vessels capable of repeating it, signal that climatologists and businesspeople alike believe it’s a safe bet that Arctic ice will continue to melt.