Aerial view of the Northwest Passage. Photo: Wikipedia

A Finnish icebreaker’s new record for the earliest crossing of the fabled Northwest Passage highlights the tiny Nordic nation’s growing role in new shipping routes being created by the warming Arctic seas between Asia, North America and Europe.

The Associated Press reported this weekend that the MSV Nordica navigated the Northwest Passage in Canada’s Far North in 24 days, spanning a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers or 6,214 miles. The icebreaker departed Vancouver in British Columbia on July 5 and reached Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on July 29.

Closer to home, a group of Finnish academics and business leaders have proposed building a US$3.4 billion “Arctic Corridor” railway that would connect Northern Europe with China and Arctic Ocean deep-water ports. Backers say the corridor would position Finland to become an Arctic gateway for China’s ambitious Belt and Road project to create an integrated economic zone that connects Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

If the Finnish proposal goes through, ships could move goods from China as well as oil and gas from Arctic fields in Russia westward along Russia’s Northern Sea Route to Kirkenes in Norway.

Finland and China have also pledged over the last year to enhance bilateral cooperation in Arctic affairs, specifically in the context of China-EU and China-Nordic cooperation. Finland has also assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an international body that Arctic littoral states including Russia and the US use to govern the Arctic.

In another feat, the Nordic Orion, a Danish bulk carrier, nudged through the Northwest Passage from Vancouver to Finland in 2013. Analysts say the voyage showed that it was possible for container ships with ice-strengthened hulls to make similar runs from China and other Asian ports.

Scientists are predicting that the Northwest Passage will be largely free of ice in the summers by 2050 if the polar ice cap continues to melt at current rates.