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New report: types of ships operating in the Arctic

A report from the Arctic Council Working Group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment reveals the types of ships operating in the Arctic

The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) published its fifth Arctic Shipping Status Report utilizing its Arctic Ship Traffic Data (ASTD) System. The report identifies the number of vessels and explains each ship type operating in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2022.

More than 1660 unique ships sailed in the Arctic in 2022. The majority of those ships – 44% – were fishing vessels. The second most common ship type were general cargo ships (11%), followed by bulk carriers (7%) and tugboats (6%).


Fishing vessels in Arctic waters

Fishing vessels accounted for 729 ships in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2022. The majority of these (77%) are vessels for catching fish whose method is other than trawling, such as long liners, purse seiners and others. Fish factory ships accounted for 20% of total fishing vessels, which includes trawlers and vessels fitted out with a factory for refrigerating, processing and possibly canning. Other less frequent fishing vessels include fish carriers, fishery patrol vessels, fishery research vessels and seal catchers.


Cargo ships in Arctic waters

Cargo ships accounted for 182 ships in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2022. The majority of these (82%) are general cargo ships with a single or multi deck for the carriage of various types of dry cargo, where cargo is loaded and unloaded through weather deck hatches. The second most common type were deck cargo ships (15%), which are vessels arranged for carrying unitized cargo on deck only. Just two cargo ships were classified as heavy load carriers, which are vessels able to carry heavy and/or outsized individual cargos.

Bulk Carriers in Arctic waters

Bulk carriers transport cargo in specially designated compartments. The three major bulk cargoes worldwide are iron ore, coal and grain.

There were 114 bulk carriers in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2022. The majority of bulk carriers (94%) were single deck cargo vessels with an arrangement of topside ballast tanks for the carriage of bulk dry cargo of a homogenous nature. Six bulk carriers were ore/oil carriers constructed for the alternative carriage of crude oil.

Cruise ships and tourism

Cruise ships are mainly used for tourism and typically embark on roundtrip voyages, stopping at various ports where passengers can take part in shore excursions. Cruise ships often enter the Arctic waters area several times each year. For example, in 2022, 78 cruise ships made 250 entries into the Arctic Polar Code area. Cruise ships accounted for five percent of unique ships in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2022.

Natural resources and ships in the Arctic

Natural resource exploration is one of the drivers for shipping in the Arctic. Ships involved in this work made up 18% of unique ships in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2022. This includes:

  • Bulk carriers, 114 ships
  • Chemical tankers, 55 ships
  • Oil product tankers, 51 ships
  • Offshore supply ships, 29 ships
  • Gas tankers, 26 ships
  • Crude oil tankers, 16 ships

Other ship types are also likely to support natural resource exploration, including tugboats and icebreakers.


Arctic shipping data

As Arctic shipping increases, more data is needed to monitor trends. Collecting data about Arctic shipping, including the number, type, origin, destination, distances traveled, voyage time of year, and related information contribute to enabling safer shipping in the Arctic.

In response to a growing need for accurate, reliable and up-to-date information on Arctic shipping activities, PAME developed the Arctic Ship Traffic Data (ASTD) System. The ASTD System collects a wide range of historical information, including ship tracks by ship type, information on number of ships in over 60 ports/communities across the Arctic, detailed measurements on emissions by ships, shipping activity in specific areas, and fuel consumption by ships. PAME uses data from the ASTD System to conduct analyses and reports related to Arctic shipping, including this Arctic Shipping Status Report and four others.

More information can be found in the full Arctic Shipping Status Report #5: Types of Ships in the Arctic. All Arctic Shipping Status reports can be found on PAME’s website here.