The Northwest Passage is a sea passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by way of the Arctic Ocean north of North America. Many explorers, like John Cabot and Henry Hudson, spent most of their lives trying to find the Northwest Passage, without success due to the polar icecap. However, the search for the Northwest Passage led to many great discoveries, such as Balboa's discovery of the Pacific, and the Lewis and Clark expedition (also to the Pacific, but much later).
In 2007, the arctic ice cap had melted to the lowest level on record (allegedly due to global warming). This lead to renewed interest in the passage, should the area be ice-free in the future. Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark (via Greenland) and the United States have rushed to obtain rights to the arctic route. In August, a Russian submarine planted the Russian flag under the North Pole, making a symbolic claim to the area.
In September 2009 two German ships have begun the transit from a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands carrying 3,500 tons of construction materials. It will be the first commercial voyage to use the Northwest Passage.