This week Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the country’s shipbuilding executives to review plans to prioritize short sea shipping with the hope of bypassing the Suez Canal.
“We are focusing on the South-North corridor, primarily moving cargo via the Caspian Sea,” said Alexei Rakhmanov, Chief Executive of United Shipbuilding, Russia’s largest shipbuilding company. “This year, we are starting to design a containership that will ply the Caspian Sea with Helsinki as its final destination. In this way, we will be opening up routes that do not depend on foreigners.”
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According to the Kremlin, by building smaller vessels capable of short sea shipping, it’s possible to load cargo in northern Iran or western China and take it to Helsinki via the Russian Port of Olya on the Caspian Sea. They believe this route will take only seven or eight days to reach Helsinki from Olya at an average speed of 10 knots.
“We are zealously working on many new products,” said Rakhmanov. “In the case of civilian shipbuilding, I am referring to the opening of basically new segments, including small boats, which few businesses have dealt with systematically, and solutions for Russian cities.”
“The main question is the cost of this shipment. We are working on it jointly with shipping companies.” Putin was told the route north will include navigating the Volga River, then the Volga-Baltic Waterway, and the Moscow Canal to St Petersburg. Vessels could go as far as the White Sea, but the scale would be a bit smaller there, with smaller cargos.
In the United States, the Maritime Administration under Trump prioritized short sea shipping as a solution to congested highways and failing infrastructure in today’s era of megaships. President Biden, however, has not included much in the way of short sea shipping or port subsidies that could solve America’s infrastructure problems and significantly reduce carbon emissions. Biden has also failed to nominate a chief of the US Maritime Administration, the federal agency tasked with solving the problem. In Europe, the use of short sea shipping vessels is already common but 50% of the shortsea fleet is more than 20 years old, with Toepfer Transport suggesting 24% of the fleet will reach the end of their economic life in the next five to 10 years.
Russia’s Other Plan To Bypass The Suez
This is not Russia’s first plan to bypass the Suez Canal. In March President Vladimir Putin revealed a plan to capitalize on the polar ice melt from global warming by investing in Arctic shipping and development. This plan to reroute cargo via the artic will also require shipbuilding efforts and, this week, Russia announced plans to build new icebreakers that are powered by liquified natural gas. Russia already has numerous heavy icebreakers (including heavy nuclear ships), while the United States doesn’t have a single heavy icebreaker that doesn’t catch fire and break down routinely.
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