Lack of ships delays development of Northeast Passage | Polarjournal
Traffic in the Northeast Passage is to be massively increased in the coming years. However, the necessary vessels are still lacking.

The head of the Ministry for Far Eastern Development, Aleksey Chekunkov, in an interview with the news portal RBC on the eve of the Eastern Economic Forum, reported on the lack of vessels with a suitable ice class for the further development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR). Russia has considered the route between Murmansk and the Bering Strait as an alternative to the Suez Canal for years and plans to boost trade across the Arctic even further next year.

The minister said that in 2022, about 34 million tons of cargo were transported along the NSR. This year, the same amount of cargo should be achieved, he went on saying. Thereafter, by the end of 2024, the target of 80 million tons of freight transport declared by the government of Putin should be achieved and further expanded to 200 million tons by 2030.

Shipyards in Russia, such as Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, are at capacity, so shipbuilders in India and China are scrambling for orders and looking to step into the breach.

However, there are not yet enough ice-classed vessels for such an increase in cargo traffic, not only in Russia, but worldwide. “My biggest concern might be the availability of a fleet of ships with an ice class in sufficient quantity to transport 200 million tons in seven to eight years. The production cycle of a large tanker or cargo ship with ice class is not months, but years,” Aleksey Chekunkov said.

Negotiations are currently underway in this regard, especially with India and China, the minister said. “India is interested in cooperating to develop Northern Sea shipping and possibly in joint shipbuilding. Of course, China has also announced its interest. Somehow we will be able to produce a fleet with necessary ice class and in sufficient quantity.”

Aleksey Chekunkov: “Are there enough shipyards, are there enough specialists? This is probably exactly the issue where it’s interesting to talk about cooperation with our biggest partners.”

In 2022, the government approved a program that included the construction of 50 icebreakers and ice-class vessels to be deployed on the Northern Sea Route by 2035. This program also envisages the construction of a number of infrastructure facilities such as terminals for handling coal, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG), ports, emergency rescue centers, as well as the formation of an orbital constellation of satellites for monitoring.

However, at the end of 2022, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev warned of the danger of a shortage of icebreakers. According to Medvedev, half of the group of six ships in the Rosatom-controlled icebreaker fleet were built with outdated technologies, their service life has been repeatedly extended, and between 2026 and 2027 they will have already exhausted their resources. “If they are not replaced in the near future with new ships of modern design, by 2030 there is a risk of lack of icebreaking capacity,” he said.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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