Russia’s shipping and shipbuilding sectors are vibrant in 2015, nowhere more so than in the Arctic sector. Indeed there has been a constant stream of new developments and initiatives. The most significant announcement came in June, when Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed off plans to raise traffic through the Northern Sea Route (NSR), by 20 times to a staggering 80 million tons of freight annually by 2030. The move signals that Russian plans to develop an Arctic passage rivaling the Suez Canal are finally coming closer to realization.
“This is the shortest route connecting Europe with the Far East, with the Asia-Pacific region, with the western part of North America,” Medvedev commented. With shipping distances reduced by around a third between Europe and Asia, the opportunities for commercial advantage potentially on offer from the NSR are clear.
The implementation of the comprehensive project is expected to improve the safety of navigation, develop civilian and naval activity, facilitate the Northern Delivery Operation for constituent entities in Russia’s Far North and promote protection of the marine environment against pollution. The project is also intended to enhance the reliability of transport, including that of hydrocarbons from deposits on the Arctic coast and the continental shelf of the Russian Federation.
Intensified effort to strengthen Coast Guard
A crucial component to the successful development of the NSR as a shipping lane rivalling Suez, is the provision of a competent Coast Guard. The area is a hazardous one and the safety of vessels traversing it needs to be guaranteed. Adequate search and rescue provision in the area is also imperative to the actualization of the cost-saving benefits it promises, without and insurance premiums make it a less cost-effective option.
Plans to build up the Arctic Coast Guard have been ongoing since 2011, when the Federal Security Service (FSB) ordered the first of a planned six "Ocean" patrol ships. The lead vessel in the "Project 22100" series, known as Polyarnaya Zvezda (or North Star), has been completed and is undergoing final preparations for regular service in Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg. Two further vessels are currently under construction, and should be ready by 2019.
Development of the new Arctic Coast Guard force will not end with the completion of the Project 22100 class, according to Mikhail Barabanov, a naval expert at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST). "Construction is planned for several larger Coast Guard patrol ships with a displacement of 6,000 to 7,000 tons," Barabanov said, adding that the ships will double as icebreakers. Several design bureaus are now competing for tenders to design the ships, he said.
Recent weeks have seen a series of developments in the Russian shipping industry, with continued investment to upgrade the Arctic fleet especially prominent. The country is currently reported to have at least 14 icebreakers under construction and several more at the planning stage.
Aker Arctic and Vyborg Shipyard have recently confirmed a contract for two new icebreakers based on the Aker ARC 130 A design. The icebreakers will be used in the oil terminal operated by LLC Gazprom Neft Novy Port in the Gulf of Ob and will be designed to break 2m level ice with 30cm of snow cover in both ahead and astern directions.
Vyborg confirmed that they will be conducting the delivery ceremony for the lead vessel in the project 21900M series, Vladivostok, within the framework of the NEVA 2015 exhibition held in St-Petersburg, 22-25 September. The exhibition provides a collaborative, global platform to promote Russia's commercial shipbuilding, ship equipment and related maritime industries. Vladivstok is one of three diesel-electric icebreakers built for FSUE Rosmorport, with the ability to break through 1.5-meter thick ice and intended for operation in the Baltic. Delivery of the second vessel in the series, Murmansk, is expected around October-November 2015.
Another important initiative is the so-called Project 22220 series of nuclear-powered icebreakers which are being built to Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) class. The keel laying of the first ship in the series took place at the Baltic Shipyard in May this year. New structural solutions have enabled the ships’ draught to be modified, so that the vessels can operate effectively both in the deeper waters of the western Arctic as well as the shallower waters in the mouth of the Yenisei and the Gulf of Ob. Having the highest Arctic Icebreaker9 class, and 60MW of power, will enable these icebreakers to move through level ice up to 2.8m thick.
A significant milestone for the Russian Arctic shipping business is the recent entry into service, following successful sea trials in the harsh Kara Sea, of the Baltika, which was built by Arctech Helsinki Shipyard in co-operation with Russia’s Shipyard Yantar. Baltika is owned by the Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport of Russia (Rosmorrechflot) and operated by the Russian Marine Emergency Rescue Service (FGI Gosmorspassluzhba).
The sea trials concluded in April and demonstrated that Baltika could perform beyond its design capabilities in difficult ice conditions. The Baltika is the first vessel designed to break ice obliquely; the oblique mode allows the vessel to create a 50m wide channel in 0.6m thick ice, which is over two times wider than her breadth.
Arctic activity takes center stage at international maritime gathering
NEVA has a strong focus on Arctic developments for its 2015 program, highlighting innovation in technology and opportunities in the market. International cooperation as well as updates on Russian and foreign companies developing activities in the region will be explored during the Artic Session of the NEVA 2015 conference program.
The session will run in conjunction with the annual meeting of the International Expert Council for Cooperation in the Arctic and will be concentrated around the theme of “Economic, Technological and Maritime Cooperation in the Arctic.”
The International Expert Council on Cooperation in the Arctic was established in 2013, with the assistance of the Public Chamber and is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and the Gorchakov Foundation for Public Diplomacy.