US Coast Guard Admiral Brooks may have exaggerated somewhat in his comparison of the Bering Strait and the Strait of Malacca, but he does expect a lot more traffic through the Bering Straits in the next 10 to 20 years: U.S. needs to prepare for Arctic traffic surge (Tom Kizzia, Anchorage Daily News, Feb 14).
That's the tip of Russia's Chukchi Peninsula on the left, and the tip of Alaska's Seward Peninsula on the right. The shortest distance across is about 55 miles. The big island on the Russian side of the international boundary is Big Diomede, and the U.S. island next to it is Little Diomede. You can't see Fairway Rock, a small island to the southeast of the Diomedes. King Island is under the Seward Peninsula south of the straits.
Speaking at an Anchorage conference on environmental science, Rear Adm. Gene Brooks [the top official in the Alaskan Coast Guard district - Ben] said he expects the new shipping to take off in the next 10 to 20 years, with the Bering Strait being the key access point for shipping between the Pacific and Europe.
"This is the new Strait of Malacca," Brooks said...
Shipping through ice-free waters north of Russia could cut the distance between East Asia and Northern Europe by one-third, said Mead Treadwell of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. It would be an even bigger savings for giant new container ships that are too big to fit through the Suez Canal, he said.
New icebreaker technology and new "ice-class" tankers capable of carrying oil through ice will help pioneer the new routes, Treadwell said. The Aleutian ports of Adak and Dutch Harbor would be likely to play an important role in the new shipping routes, he said.
Long seasonal ice-free periods could mean more shipping of natural resources like the 20 to 30 zinc-ore ships that now serve the Red Dog mine north of the Bering Strait, Brooks said....
The Coast Guard had to rush to the line and make sure no problems developed, Brooks said. Meanwhile, the new maritime traffic is already starting to appear. Last summer, three cruise ships made their way through the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to Alaska's North Slope. Their appearance was a surprise, Brooks said.