AUGUSTA — Speaking to a conference assembled to discuss the transportation trends of the future, Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that global climate change could have an upside for Maine.

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Passage has opened up,” he said. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

The Northeast Passage, also known as the northern sea route, is a maritime route through the Arctic Circle that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, providing a shortcut from the U.S. East Coast to Asia — and all the markets therein — that shaves 40 percent off the distance of the traditional route through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal.

The recession of polar ice has opened up the Northeast Passage, over the past several years. In 2009, a German shipping vessel became the first commercial vessel to use the route, according to The New York Times. In 2011, 18 vessels used the route, the newspaper reported.

LePage touted the recently formed relationship between Maine and Icelandic shipping company Eimskipp, which made Portland its North American headquarters earlier this year.

Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson, speaking in Portland this May, also touted the opening of the Northeast Passage as a potential boon for Maine and his country.

BDN business editor Whit Richardson contributed to this report.

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