Interest in the Barents Sea and its coasts grew in the 16th century when the Europeans were searching for sea routes to China and America. Willem Barentz (1550-97) was a Dutch navigator who made three voyages (1594, 1595, 1596-97) in search of a Northeast Passage to Asia. The third expedition started in May 1596. One month later Barentz discovered and named the islands of Spitsbergen (now Svalbard) and Bjornoya. He and the 17 crewmen went eastwards, but the ship got stuck in the ice and sank, and they had to spend the whole winter on Novaya Zemlya.
On June 14, 1597, all the men left in two open boats and Willem Barentz, who was ill, died six days later. They reached the shores of the Kola Peninsula, where the 12 survivors were rescued purely by chance. The following year, 1598, Willem Barentz’ diary was published, a map of Spitsbergen was printed and the Barents Sea was named after him. The search for the northern sea route continued for some time, and in 1878, the Swede Finn N.A.E. Nordenskjöld led the first successful navigation of the Northeast Passage. But as a commercial idea, the shortcut to Asia remains a challenge.
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