Sat Mar 26th, 2011 at 08:15:39 PM EST
Resources became products at Whale Creek. Trees from forests no longer virgin, animals, earth were all sent to the various mills, smelters, tanneries and rendering plants to become processed and refined. Not long after the state abolished slavery, this was the industrial heart of New York. But no more, we have others doing this work for us now. In their place lies an immense new wastewater plant, the fabric covering visitor's center not yet completely torn off.
About two weeks ago, Father Neptune himself paid a visit to New York. Or should I say herself, since this Father Neptune is a bulk cargo ship. She was here on a trip charter adding to the mountain of Chilean road salt left behind by the Nord Leader.
Before that she carried coal from China to India and visited Sao Sebastiao, Brazil to pick up a load of balsa wood. Now, she's carrying thousands of tons of petroleum coke from Louisiana to destinations unknown. Over the past year, Father Neptune will have visited all of the seven seas bar one. Lacking the strength needed to push through the ice, Father Neptune won't be able to penetrate the Arctic Ocean anytime soon.
Most any modern cargo ship can be ice-strengthened, time and money being the only true constraints. Norden, the Danish company that hired Father Neptune, just rebuilt two of their ships for service in the ice. One of them, jointly owned with Glencore, is also named in tribute to the God of the Seas. The formerly named Nordkap can now transport resources like coal across a frozen Baltic Sea, whether she does so or not depends only on the profits to be earned.
Icebreakers and the recently designed double acting ships are specialized and expensive machines. What they lack in versatility, they make up for in brute force. They're able to roam the Arctic at will by climbing on top of the still substantial protective ice cap and then using their mass to force their way through. It's loud and it's violent but it's the only way to finally open up the long resistant, frigid Arctic.
Aside from the occasional and often errant adventurer, for centuries the rich hunting grounds were the main allure of the Arctic. Very specialized, yet comparatively poorly equipped whalers would brave the dangers of the north, making brief forays into the ice because of the profits to be made. Killing the right whale was always key: the larger the whale, the more oil refined. Some whales, like Baleen and Sperm whales yielded additional products like parasol ribs and fixatives for perfumes. Most often, the whales would be first processed near the hunting grounds with more conventional ships delivering the products to market. I doubt there are many whale bones deep in the muck of Whale Creek.
Less than the six months ago, and with the help of Russian icebreakers, the MV Nordic Barents became the first non-Russian bulk carrier to traverse the Northern Sea Route. With the ice cap in full retreat, more trips are planned. And why not? Travel time from the north of Europe to China is nearly halved. Even with the added cost of the icebreakers, mining iron ore in northern Norway now makes perfect economic sense.
But the opening of the Arctic is not just about new shipping routes. There are vast resources that lie, unexploited, beneath the ice: oil, minerals, fisheries. To take full advantage of this, stronger, larger and more powerful ships are needed. And they're coming, quickly.
Some day, Father Neptune too may be hard enough to ply the seventh sea. There she will experience first hand the beauty of the north as her crew gazes in awe at all the habitat that is now ours and ours alone. It will be a sight to behold as every resource, the wind, the earth and the animals in the sea and on the land will be working for us. What other choice do they have?