20110127 arctic boat iceberg 35
A tug tows an iceberg to safer waters and away from a possible collision with an oil-drilling platform off the coast of Newfoundland April 21, 2003 in the north Atlantic Ocean. - 


JEREMY HOBSON: In Norway today countries that border the Arctic Circle are wrapping up a development conference. They say melting ice means more ships can use Arctic waters.

But as Eve Troeh reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, that's not as easy as it sounds.

Eve Troeh: Sending ships across the Arctic is a long-standing dream in the shipping industry. Joe Keefe with the Maritime Reporter says four commercial vessels made it across the Arctic last year, more than ever before.

Joe Keefe: Saved their companies thousands of miles of transit times compared to going around the Horn and through one of the canals.

But he says those were experimental voyages. And trans-Arctic shipping should stay that way for now, because systems aren't ready.

Keefe: Training people to do things like navigate through ice -- there's very few people who actually know how to do that.

Keefe says more companies are training for polar conditions.

David Balton with the U.S. State Department says major shipping across the Arctic is many years away. Because even with historic amounts of ice melting, the Arctic is still only passable in the short summer.

David Balton: And it costs a great deal of money to retrofit boats to sail all the way through icy waters, only for a few weeks a year.

He says companies don't have polar fleets that could, say, take wheat from the U.S. to China. Yet. But as more ice melts each year, that is where things are headed.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

Follow Eve Troeh at @evetroeh