Northern Sea Route Opening For 2012 Season

By Keith Henderson at June 21, 2012 08:14
Filed Under: Company News, General

The Vilkitsky Strait between the Siberian coast and the islands of Severnaya Zemlya is one of the key areas for navigating the Northern Sea Route, also known as the Northeast Passage, is already devoid of fast ice, one month earlier than last year . To the west most of the ice has already gone because large areas never achieve a thickness greater than 20 inches (50 cms) during the winter, according to the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. An expedition to the same area in winter 2007/8 measured ice thicknesses of 40 inches (1 m).

Caption: The 75,000 hp nuclear powered Arktika Class icebreaker NS 50Let Pobedy, completed in 2007, is the most recent
ship to join Russia’s fleet of five other nuclear icebreakers.  A seventh is planned for completion in 2015.
Image credit: Rosatom

The Russian state-owned operator of nuclear icebreakers, Rosatomflot, is expecting the season to start with smaller vessels, around 20,000 dwt, being the first vessels to be escorted by its icebreakers and able to take a route closer to the Russian coastline. Larger vessels of greater draft, for example tankers, will take a more northerly route available in July. If conditions remain favourable the route could remain open as late as November, according to Rosatomflot assistant director Mikael Belkin, giving a five-month window. The majority of cargo using the route is industrial, comprising iron ore and oil and gas condensate.

This year a first for the route, will be the MV Ribera del Duero Knutsen, the world’s only ice-class 1A LNG tanker transporting LNG from the Norwegian Snovit project to Japan. Nordic Bulk Carriers of Denmark has indicated that it wishes to transport six to eight 70,000 tons shipments of iron ore from Murmansk to China this summer, consequently saving an estimated 1000 tons of fuel, or $650,000.

Use of the Northern Sea Route has increased rapidly during the last two years. In 2010, only four vessels used the route with a total cargo of 111 000 tons. The following year, 2011, the number of vessels sailing from Europe to Asia was 34 with a total cargo amounting to 820,000 tons. The prognosis for 2012 is that cargo volume is expected to double to 1,5 million tons.

Caption: An Arktika Class icebreaker in drydock showing the powerful triple propellers
Image credit: Rosatom

Comments (2) -

This is one way to reduce a vessel's and its cargo's 'carbon footprint', in an environmentally sensitive world as well make financial savings during these challenging times. The Russian State is proactive and has a comparative advantage over its neighbouring States in polar navigation and infrastructure and that should be recognized. One can only look back to a few months ago when the coastal town of Nome, Alaska eventually relied on Russian know how and hardware to deliver necessary supplies. We, in the shipping community who are able to navigate NSR are fortunate that the season is longer than anticipated, however, weather goes through warm and cold 'multi year' cycles and one may not always have a prolonged season, as was 2011.

P.N.Pontikos |     6/21/2012 4:06:14 PM #

p.n.pontikos |     6/21/2012 6:29:12 PM #

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