Winter Bay has the lowest ice classification recognised by Russia, and her permit to sail this route is only valid for 'low' ice conditions. Conditions remain 'medium' en route, so it's surprising the vessel has sailed.
But given that Icelanders don't eat fin whale meat (and therefore this hunt is entirely for export), if the shipment cannot be delivered to Japan (its only market), then the Icelandic hunting will have to stop. Strong pressure from the whalers' owner, Kristjan Loftsson, to get the vessel through...
The unusual route is because of the unusual cargo. Loftsson used to send his meat via the international sea freight cargo network using European ports. But in mid-2013, Greenpeace actions in Rotterdam and Hamburg closed these ports to whale meat. Shipping lines began to refuse whale meat, including one of Iceland's own.
Jan.2014: Loftsson sent whale meat to America labelled as 'Frozen Seafood': USA barred it. Canada allowed it and seven containers were railed 4,000 miles across Canada before Greenpeace got them stopped.
March 2014: Loftsson chartered his own ship for the first time. He loaded 2,000 tons of meat onto the Alma, and sent it south around the Cape of Good Hope. But protestors got Alma's planned port stop in Durban, South Africa cancelled. She had to refuel from a tanker off Mauritius, making headlines there, and reached Japan without once going into port.
These efforts bring little/no financial gain to Loftsson. The Japanese whale meat market is collapsing, because young people don't eat it and Japan's whalers are unable to sell all their catch. But he hopes to build the market. He claims a decreasing supply of whale meat in Japan will create a demand for his product...
...meanwhile Russia is considering prohibiting transit of Icelandic foods to Russia through the EU, due to the high risk of shipping documents being forged.
According to findings of Iceland food inspections in Russia in the last 6mths, just one out of 40 certificates was the original one, while the others were forged in EU member-states.
UPDATE: 05 Sept.2015 - Winter Bay reached Osaka, Japan on 30 August. Its Icelandic fin meat cargo equates to roughly 40% of Japan's annual whale consumption.