The New York Times' DotEarth blog reports that the first trip to make the northeast passage from Asia to Europe, via Russia, has embarked from Vladivosktok. They expect to make it through a passage opened by retreating ice, as August progresses.
Something that is very important to take a look at: what kind of fuel will the ship be using for the passage? This is important because of the 'black carbon' emissions (essentially unburned fuel) that comes from burning the low-grade bunker fuel that is typically used by freighters. Black Carbon is a major cause of ice melt, and if other ships start making this journey, they could dramatically hasten the melting of arctic ice. When ice comes into contact with black carbon, it becomes much more likely for it to melt: instead of reflecting the heat from the sun, as it would when white, it will absorb more of the heat, and melt faster. This is a dangerous feedback loop.
One of the things that the Arctic Council is looking at is a ban on the usage of bunker fuels in the High North. I wonder what kind of fuel the Beluga Fraternity is burning for this trip?