Chinese shipping giant COSCO plans to send three cargo ships through the Arctic Ocean this summer, according to a statement, as the company expands services on a route global warming is making more viable.
The "Northeast Passage" -- an Arctic itinerary north of Russia -- is icebound for much of the year, but climate change is making it more accessible, potentially shrinking journey times to Europe, and China sees the opportunity to reshape global trade flows.
COSCO's Yong Sheng merchant ship set off from the Chinese port city of Tianjin on Saturday for a voyage through the "Northeast Passage" bound for Britain with a mixed cargo, the company said in a statement over the weekend.
It has made two previous trips on the route in the past three years, but two more COSCO ships, the Tian Xi and Xiang Yun Kou, are scheduled to navigate the Northeast Passage next month, according to the company statement.
The shipping giant -- which has grown through the merger with another company, China Shipping Group -- said it aims to "normalise" services on the route.
China's Maritime Safety Administration in May published a Chinese language guide including nautical charts and descriptions of ice conditions for another Arctic shipping route, the Northwest Passage, which runs north of Canada.
Canada regards the Northwest Passage as part of its internal waters, while some other countries consider it an international strait.
China does not border the Arctic and has no territorial claim to any of it, but it has joined the Arctic Council as an observer.
Analysts say China recognises the area's potential for scientific research and its strategic value.