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South Korea Explores Container Shipping on Russia’s North Sea Route

container shipping on Russia's North Sea Route
Tankers and gas carriers remain the largest traffic on the NSR (Sovcomflot photo)

Published Nov 9, 2021 3:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

South Korean investors are exploring the possibility of container shipping along Russia’s North Sea Route. Expansion of the Arctic shipping route remains a high priority for Russia with an increasing focus on developing container shipping as a means of building the route that started as access to the northern gas fields.

"Korean investors are interested in building ships and participating in the creation and operation of an Arctic container line,” Alexei Chekunkov, Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East told Russia’s Sputnik news outlet at the conclusion of a five-day visit to South Korea. The minister said he hoped the two countries would be working together to not only build ice-class vessels but develop a container line for the North Sea Route.

Container shipping is viewed by the Russians as a key part of the next phase of the plans to develop the route. In July, they announced a cooperation agreement with Dubai-based port operator DP World for a pilot container shipping project using the NSR. The two companies said they will work together to develop and test the infrastructure to support cargo to be transported through the Arctic between Northern Europe and East Asia. DP World is also undertaking a feasibility study for a new container berth at the port of Vladivostok.

According to the minister, the development of international logistics routes along the Northern Sea Route became a central theme during his meetings in South Korea. "The opportunity to become a pioneer in the Arctic is a strategic choice for a country that is dependent on sea trade for the decades to come,” said Chekunkov. He spoke of the opportunities to unite Europe and Asia through the development of the North Sea route and the use of emerging technologies including hydrogen.

Russia and South Korea’s large shipbuilders are already working on a series of projects. Samsung Heavy Industries recently began construction on a fifth gas carrier for the Arctic LNG 2 plant. Zvezda and Samsung have been cooperating on the construction projects, while Zvezda is also working with Hyundai Heavy Industries on Aframax class vessels which will be used at oil production projects in the Arctic. In addition, South Korea is also considering involving its small and medium-sized shipyards in the construction of a fleet for the Northern Sea Route, the Russian minister noted.

Accelerating the growth of shipping along the NSR remains a key focus for the Russian authorities to reach Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declared target of 80 million tons of cargo traveling along the route by the end of 2024.

This week, Russian officials said that cargo transiting the NSR had increased 4.8 percent during the first 10 months of 2021 compared to 2020. The volume reached 28.2 million tons well short of the longer-term goal for the route. LNG and gas condensate exports continue to be the primary cargo along the NSR route accounting for 16.4 million tons of cargo in the first 10 months of 2021 having increased nearly two percent over last year. 

The NSR administrator highlighted strong growth in the number of permits issued to vessels seeking to transit the route in 2021. Permits were up more than 18 percent to a total of 1,155 permits for navigation in the water area of the Northern Sea Route in 2021.