A Russian tanker has cruised through the northern sea route without an icebreaker escort for the first time.
Experts claim that climate change is to blame as warming temperatures thaw the region’s frozen waters.
The £234 million ($300 million) Christophe de Margerie completed the journey from Hammerfest in Norway to Boryeong in South Korea in just 19 days.
The ship completed its Arctic journey 30 per cent quicker than it would have along the alternative route, via the Suez canal.
Despite the ship having its own icebreaker, it has previously been impossible to traverse the icy route without a separate icebreaker escort.
But using only its integral icebreaker, the tanker took just six and a half days to travel the northern sea section of the Russian Arctic, a new record.
‘It’s very quick, particularly as there was no icebreaker escort which previously there had been in journeys,’ Bill Spears, spokesman for the shipping company which owns the tanker, Sovcomflot, told the Guardian.
‘It’s very exciting that a ship can go along this route all year round.’
The 300-metre-long (984 ft) ship, which was specially designed to take advantage of the Arctic’s diminishing sea ice, crossed ice fields up to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) thick.
It was carrying a cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which the ship can be powered by alongside conventional fuel to reduce sulphur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
‘This is a significant factor in a fragile ecosystem,’ Mr Spears said.
While the rapid crossing time was thanks in part to the tanker’s technology, the record journey highlights the effects of climate change on Arctic ice.
Research published earlier this year suggested that ‘polar heatwaves’ had shrunk the icecaps down to an all-time low.
A separate study in March saw experts warn that the Arctic’s pearly white scenery is turning green, as sea ice continues to melt in the Arctic.
The green tinge is caused by the bloom of microscopic algae as thinning ice allows in more sunlight – the consequences of which are still unknown.
The findings, from Harvard University, showed that micro-algae may now be able to grow under the ice across almost 30 per cent of the Arctic Ocean at the peak of the summer in July.
This up from about five per cent, 30 years ago.
Dr Christopher Horvat, lead author of the study, said at the time: ‘Recent climate change may have markedly altered the ecology of the Arctic Ocean.’