Russian ships reach North Pole
Russian ships reach North Pole
8/1/2007, 12:24 p.m. EDT
By DOUGLAS BIRCH
The Associated Press
(AP) — V MOSCOW — An expedition aimed at strengthening Russia's claim to much of oil and gas wealth beneath the Arctic Ocean reached the North Pole on Wednesday, and preparations immediately began for two mini-submarines to drop a capsule containing a Russian flag to the sea floor.
The Rossiya icebreaker had plowed a path to the pole through an unbroken sheet of multiyear ice, clearing the way for the Akademik Fedorov research ship to follow, said Sergei Balyasnikov, a spokesman for the Arctic and Antarctic research institute that prepared the expedition.
"For the first time in history people will go down to the sea bed under the North Pole," Balyasnikov told The Associated Press. "It's like putting flag on the moon."
In the coming hours, Russian scientists hope to dive in two mini-submarines beneath the pole to a depth of more than 13,200 feet, and drop a metal capsule containing the Russian flag on the sea bed.
Balyasnikov said the dive was expected to start on Thursday morning and last for several hours.
The voyage, led by noted polar explorer and Russian legislator Artur Chilingarov, has some scientific goals, including the study of Arctic plants and animals. But its chief goal appears to be advancing Russia's political and economic influence by strengthening its legal claims to the gas and oil deposits thought to lie beneath the Arctic sea floor.
The symbolic gesture, along with geologic data being gathered by expedition scientists, is intended to prop up Moscow's claims to more than 460,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf — which by some estimates may contain 10 billion tons of oil and gas deposits.
The expedition reflects an intense rivalry between Russia, the United States, Canada and other nations whose shores face the northern polar ocean for the Arctic's icebound riches.
About 100 scientists aboard the Akademik Fyodorov are looking for evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge — a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range that crosses the polar region — is a geologic extension of Russia, and therefore can be claimed by it under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The subs will collect specimens of Arctic plants and animals and videotape the dives.
The biggest challenge, scientists say, will be for the mini-sub crews to return to their original point of departure to avoid being trapped under a thick ice crust.
"They have all the necessary navigation equipment to ensure safety," Balyasnikov said.
Denmark hopes to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Danish territory of Greenland, not Russia. Canada, meanwhile, plans to spend $7 billion to build and operate up to eight Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.
The U.S. Congress is considering an $8.7 billion budget reauthorization bill for the U.S. Coast Guard that includes 72.96 million to operate and maintain the nation's three existing polar icebreakers. The bill also authorizes the Coast Guard to construct two new vessels.
Russia ahead in Arctic 'gold rush'
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
The Russians are leading a new "gold rush" in the
high north, with a bold attempt to assert a claim to oil, gas and
mineral rights over large parts of the Arctic Ocean up to the North
New "goldminer": Artur Chilingarov
Russia's most famous explorer, Artur Chilingarov,
complete with nautical beard, is leading an expedition to plant the
Russian flag in a capsule on the ocean seabed under the pole itself.
"The Arctic is Russian," Chilingarov has said. "We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf."
Russia is claiming that an underwater mountain known as the Lomonosov Ridge is actually an extension of the Russian landmass.
This, it argues, justifies its claim to a triangular
area up to the pole, giving it rights under the United Nations Law of
the Sea Convention.
Under Article 76 of the convention, a state can claim a
200 nautical mile exclusive zone and beyond that up to 150 nautical
miles of rights on the seabed. The baseline from which these distances
are measured depends on where the continental shelf ends.
Russia lodged a formal claim in 2001 but the UN's
Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf told it to resubmit
the claim. The flag-planting can be seen as a symbolic gesture in
At the same time, other states are acting to protect
their interests in the Arctic. Canada is planning to build up to eight
new patrol ships and the US Congress is considering a proposal to build
two new heavy polar ships.
The rush for the Arctic has become more frenzied because
of the melting of parts of the polar ice cap, which will allow easier
exploration, and by the urgent need for new sources of oil and gas. A
new sense of nationalism is also evident in Russia.
The ice thaw is predicted by a team of international
researchers whose Arctic Climate Impact Assessment suggested in 2004
that the summer ice cap could melt completely before the end of this
century because of global warming.
If the ice retreats, it could open up new shipping routes and new areas where natural resources could be exploited.
Shaded area on Russian map shows claim up to North Pole
The US Geological Survey estimates that a quarter of the world's undiscovered energy resources lies in Arctic areas.
At the moment, nobody's shelf extends up to the North
Pole so there is an international area around the Pole administered by
the International Seabed Authority from Kingston, Jamaica.
But quite apart from the Russian claim there are multiple other disputes.
The US and Canada argue over rights in the North-west
Passage, Norway and Russia differ over the Barents Sea, Canada and
Denmark are competing over a small island off Greenland, the Russian
parliament is refusing to ratify an agreement with the US over the
Bering Sea and Denmark is claiming the North Pole itself.
North Pole solutions
The five countries involved are considering two
other potential ways of sharing the region, in which all the sea would
be divided between them.
The "median line method", supported by Canada and
Denmark, would divide the Arctic waters between countries according to
their length of nearest coastline. This would give Denmark the Pole
itself but Canada would gain as well.
The "sector method" would take the North Pole as the
centre and draw lines south along longitudes. This would penalise
Canada but Norway and, to a lesser extent, Russia, would gain.
One major problem is that the United States has not
ratified the 1982 UN convention, largely because senators did not want
to have international restrictions placed on American actions.
However, in May 2007, Senator Richard Lugar, a senior
Republican, pleaded for ratification in the light of the Russian moves,
saying that an American voice was needed at the