Amidst growing concern over the rapid climate changes occurring in the Arctic regions, experts in marine transport and researchers of sea ice established a framework for cooperation, the 'Arctic operational platform' (ARCOP). This initiative was the first critical step in addressing the multi-faceted issues of the future for Arctic marine transport. While the ARCOP project considered the entire Arctic Ocean, a significant portion of the discussions focused on Russia's Northern Sea route. First under Soviet rule and now Russian Federation, strong emphasis continues to be placed on exploring and developing shipping through the Arctic Ocean. An indication of Russia's interest in expanding the activities in the Arctic Ocean is the creation of a new federal law dealing with the Northern Sea route. Using this sea route to move oil and gas out of Russia is an attractive possibility but several issues must be addressed to attract potential investors. The aim of the ARCOP project was to understand the marine transportation problems of the Arctic Ocean, as these apply to oil and gas. For this purpose, the discussion forum between the European Union and Russia was established, as well as between industry and academia so that common recommendations could be provided. This international gathering placed a spotlight on the increasing possibilities for marine access through the Arctic Ocean. Scientific information presented on sea ice trends provided evidence that oil and gas transportation by the Northern Sea route is technologically possible and environmentally feasible. However, the safety issues, including the protection of the Arctic environment should be further investigated. Maritime safety in the Arctic regions is based in general on the same rules that regulate maritime activities on a global basis. But the area used to be visited only by ships specially designed for trips under the extreme conditions that ice and low temperature create. Accidents such as Prestige stress the need to take initiatives to strengthen the safety of ship movements in the Arctic. One issue of particular importance is the availability of rescue and pollution abatement services. Since there is no Automatic identification system (AIS), new tools are required for marine surveillance and ship traffic management. The research agenda formulated by the end of the project aims to build on the internationally recognised need to manage human activities within the context of entire ecosystems. An increase in shipping in the region will require their harmonisation to achieve sustainable development of the Arctic.