Northeast Passage's "First Known Commercial Shipment"? Almost

Andy Revkin at DotEarth’s “Welcome to Earth’s ‘New’ Ocean: The Arctic” (about the navigation of the “Northeast Passage” by two German ships) has not yet found time to reply to my question as outlined below:

In Tom Nelson’s blog there is a link at where several sources (including Wikipedia) repeat information about the Northeast Passage (Northern Sea Route) progressively becoming more and more easy to navigate during the last few centuries, of several expeditions going all the way decades ago, of commercial exploitation from 1877. Would Mr Revkin be so kind as to comment, and perhaps clarify what he and/or Lawson W Brigham exactly meant with “this is, indeed, a first“. – thank you in advance

Revkin’s actual words include “first known commercial shipment” and “Lawson W. Brigham, a longtime source for anything related to Arctic shipping, confirmed that this is, indeed, a first“. Yes but…a first of what? If “commercial exploitation began in 1877” then the latest “first” needs some good qualifier. Here’s what the Company managing those German ships actually claims in their website (sep 9):

We are all very proud and delighted to be the first western shipping company which has successfully transited the legendary Northeast-Passage

Trade magazine Break-bulk appears to confirm:

The two vessels will then be the first non-Russian commercial vessels to make it through the Northeast Passage from Asia to Europe

Was this all too difficult to read and understand? Would the explanation of the “non-Russian” bit have removed too much from the news for it to get any space in the newspaper?


I am not sure if I will ever get an answer from Revkin.

What I am sure of though is that a little less ambiguity and a little more explanation on his part would have been quite welcome. Otherwise readers might get the impression that either the Northeast Passage is ready for leisure yachts, or that it has been forever closed by giant chunks of ice for millennia…