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Northwest Passage access should be unfettered: U.S.

Northwest Passage access should be unfettered: U.S.

Access to the Northwest Passage, a long-sought shipping route through the Canadian Arctic that's opening up as a possible trade shortcut between Europe and Asia, must remain "unfettered," a U.S. official said.
"It's our view that the Northwest Passage is for international access and unfettered access needs to be maintained," James Steel, a U.S. Embassy environment counselor in Ottawa, said at a Montreal conference on Arctic shipping.
Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record last year, opening up the Northwest Passage, a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that sailors sought 500 years ago. That is creating potential new shipping routes and a rift between Canada and the U.S., who view the passage as part of international waters.
The North American neighbors "have a good sound agreement to disagree," Franklyn Griffiths, a professor at the University of Toronto and specialist on Arctic policy, said at today's conference.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in August he'll seek to amend Canada's Arctic environmental protection law to extend the range over which the country regulates shipping by an additional 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles). Harper also said ships in the area would be forced to report to Canada's sea-traffic control system.
"We encourage shipping and navigation of the Arctic but will enforce Arctic environmental protection," said Alan Kessel, legal adviser to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs. "It depends on what you mean by unfettered."
The reporting requirement for ships would apply in the disputed Northwest Passage, which opened this year for only the second time in recorded history. Ships in the area now report to the traffic tracking system on a voluntary basis.
The U.S. says the passage, which meanders through Canada's Arctic archipelago and can cut travel between China and New Jersey by 7,000 kilometers, runs through international waters.