Russia and China Plan JV Shipping Line for Year-Round Service on the NSR

Chinese containership
NewNew Polar Bear started service last July on the NSR and stands accused of damaging a key gas pipeline (Global Ports)

Published Jun 6, 2024 5:54 PM by The Maritime Executive


Continuing forward with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imperative to develop the Northern Sea Route as an alternative means of transporting cargo, Rosatom which oversees the NSR and a Chinese shipping company announced an agreement to form a joint venture. The plan calls for the building of ice-class containerships that will be used to establish year-round transit on the NSR.

A year ago, Russia said it was seeking China’s help as it worked to accelerate plans for year-round transit of the route through the Arctic. While global warming has made year-round passages more likely, the route still requires the use of icebreakers to support ships and ice-strengthened vessels. However, it was reported earlier this week that Russia has also authorized the first non-ice class cargo ship for the route.

Under the agreement announced today in Saint Petersburg, Rosatom will form a joint venture partnership with China’s Hainan Yangpu NewNew Shipping Company to develop the year-round service. Rosatom said the plan is to build up to five Arctic-class containerships which would allow year-round service.  Each vessel would conduct a minimum of three to four voyages. 

Hainan Yangpu NewNew Shipping Company commenced service on the route in July 2023 with the NewNew Polar Bear (15,952 dwt), which was acquired earlier in the year. The ship, registered in Hong Kong, was built in 2005 and is 554 feet long with a capacity of 1,600 TEU. She reached the Russian port in Kaliningrad after a six-week passage and began the return voyage to China in late August. The company, which is shown as running five containerships, reports it completed a total of eight trips from China to St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, and Arkhangelsk in 2023.

The NewNew Polar Bear continues to be caught up in controversy since its return trip to China. On October 8, the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia was severed. Post-accident inspections of the site found a miles-long drag trail leading up to the pipeline, a broken anchor at the damage site, and a smaller drag trail the size of an anchor stock leading away, while pictures of the vessel surfaced online appearing to be missing one of her anchors. She remains the likely suspect but China and the shipping company have not cooperated with the investigation. 

According to the plans that were outlined today, they look to focus the new operation on Arkhangelsk which they highlighted is less than 700 miles from Moscow. They point out that it can become a more profitable route and provide a vital link for the transshipment of goods both for import and export.

They also highlight the potential for Murmansk, which is already a year-round port along Russia’s northern coast. They said the NSR carried 58 million tons of cargo to Murmansk in 2023 which was a three percent increase. They highlighted the potential for the port to handle 110 million tons annually.

The goal for the NSR they are reporting is to exceed 200 million tons by 2031 and reach 1.8 billion tons by 2035. China reportedly moved about two million tons of cargo on the route in 2023 with a projection that it would increase to three million this year. 

The joint venture is expected to be completed by August. They are planning the first meeting for the new company for October, although no timeline was projected for the new vessels.