Russia is sending a rare cargo of crude oil through the Arctic Sea to China, a move that will fan environmental concerns even if it means cheaper delivery costs for the nation’s petroleum.
The Aframax-class tanker Primorsky Prospect is heading north up the coast of Norway, showing its destination as Rizhao in China, where it’s due to arrive on Aug. 12. It is one of a handful of tracked cargoes on the route.
European Union sanctions have forced Russia to seek new markets for its crude. Those are mostly in China and India, adding thousands of miles to delivery times and making freight more costly.
While that might make the shorter Arctic route appealing, there has long been opposition to using the sea for merchant shipping. Organizations including the UN’s intergovernmental body for climate change have said doing so could have negative consequences for the region, including higher emissions and threats to marine ecosystems.
Using the so-called Northern Sea Route, or NSR, through the Arctic waters off Russia’s northern coast, could shave as much as two weeks, or about 30%, off the voyage compared with the southern route through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.
The vessel, built in 2010 and owned by Russia’s Sovcomflot, loaded about 730,000 barrels of Urals crude at the Baltic port of Ust-Luga on July 11-12, according to ship tracking data monitored by Bloomberg.
Eastbound navigation along Russia’s Northern Sea Route halted for winter on Nov. 30.
A previous cargo was sent last year, shortly before the route became impassable. At least two tankers went through in 2019.
Rosatom, which operates the NSR, and Russia’s oil producers are studying a possible redirection of crude shipments from Baltic ports through the Arctic.
Meanwhile Novatek, which operates LNG projects on Russia’s Arctic coast, plans to begin year-round eastbound navigation via the Northern Sea Route at the start of 2024.
–With assistance from Sherry Su.
© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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