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Russia Predicts Record Cargo Volume on Arctic Route, Aims for Year-Round Container Shipping

The Maersk containership Venta Maersk transits the Northern Sea Route on a one-off trial run of the Arctic route, September 2018. File Photo: Maersk

Russia Predicts Record Cargo Volume on Arctic Route, Aims for Year-Round Container Shipping

Malte Humpert
Total Views: 2184
June 6, 2024

By Malte Humpert (gCaptain) –

Russia continues to push ahead with plans to develop its Northern Sea Route into a year-round Arctic maritime shortcut. 

For the current year officials expect transit cargo to reach 3 million tons, around 50 percent more than last year. Volumes will primarily come from the transport of crude oil and LNG, but Russia now also aims to develop year-round container shipping.

Cooperation with China will be key to achieving its lofty goals.

During President Putin’s visit to the Chinese city Harbin last month the two countries established a joint commission for the development of the route; lead by Russia’s Rosatom and China’s Ministry of Transport. 

“Our task is to create in the shortest time possible a joint program for expanding Chinese transit along the North Sea Route,” the head of Rosatom Likhachev elaborated.

In 2023 the route saw the first regular container liner service with seven voyages connecting ports in China and South Korea to Russia’s north and the Baltics.

With a fleet of six light and medium ice-class vessels, NewNew Shipping Line provided service between early July and December, taking a significant leap toward providing regular Arctic liner service. This year the company intends to complete a dozen voyages. Its 2,741 TEU vessel Xin Xin Hai 1 received a permit for a roundtrip voyage last week. 

Another Chinese operator, Safetrans Logistics, intends to send two Panamax vessels onto the route this summer. A first in Arctic shipping. 

At this week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum the NewNew Shipping together with Rosatom announced plans to begin year-round shipping by 2027.

While transits during summer and fall are becoming increasingly feasible even for non-ice class vessels, Russia has yet to achieve routine winter traffic. Even with nuclear icebreaker escorts winter transits will require highly ice-capable vessels for decades to come. 

“NewNew Shipping is currently limited to the period of summer-autumn ice-free navigation. In order to enter year-round transportation, it is necessary to build Arctic container ships of the Arc7 ice-class. At the first stage of the project, we plan to build up to 5 ships,” Rosatom’s special representative for the Arctic, Vladimir Panov, stated.  

“Our goal is to achieve year-round container transportation along the NSR between China and the northwestern ports of our country within 3 years,” Panov continued. 

That timeline appears ambitious as there are currently no Arc7 container ships in service. 

Russia’s Russia’s largest producer of LNG, Novatek, previously announced its intention to begin year-round deliveries this past winter. But a lack of available high ice-class ships and severe ice conditions forced it to reconsider. 

Delays in shipbuilding, in part due to Western sanctions targeting the sector, have proven a bottleneck for Russia’s Arctic shipping ambitions.

A number of Arc7 LNG carriers remain in sanctions limbo in South Korea and production at Russia’s own yards has slowed to a crawl. Chinese yards may offer reprieve. They previously vied to construct ice-class LNG tankers for Novatek’s Arctic LNG 2 mega project. Though their bids were ultimately unsuccessful.

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