The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is a transport corridor from Murmansk to Vladivostok. A separate development plan was developed for this route, which provides for an investment of 1.8 trillion rubles until 2035. It is expected that 10 icebreakers will be built, 14 ports and terminals, 141 ice-class transport ships, 12 will be put into orbit satellites and four emergency rescue centers of the Ministry of Emergency Situations are created.
As Aleksey Chekunkov, head of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East, said at a meeting of the President of the Russian Federation with members of the Russian government, traffic along the NSR increased from 4 million tons in 2014 to 34 million. . tons in 2022, five times surpassing the Soviet-era record. According to him, taking into account the North’s delivery, transit flows and other cargo, the task is to ensure a cargo capacity of 100 million tons by 2026 and 200 million tons by 2030.
“In order to stimulate transportation along the Northern Sea Route within Russia, in 2022, together with Rosatomflot, we launched a regular shoreline between Murmansk and Kamchatka. We subsidized the tariff. If the cargo of the first flight was only 15%, the shippers were testing a new route, then the second one is already at 90%.In this there will be three flights this year, the number of ports of call has been expanded from 4 to 11, the route has been extended to Vladivostok”, the minister said.
At the same time, targets for transit traffic in 2023-2024 are expected to be adjusted, Chekunkov said. While several hostile states are trying to revise their previously announced plans for transit along the NSR, there is growing interest in using this route from China, India and Southeast Asian states, the minister added.
You can also load the Northern Sea Route with goods from the heavily overloaded Eastern Cordillera. The authorities have long been developing a plan on how to transport goods from the railway to the SPM ports along the rivers. This year, the Ministry of Transport plans to organize a pilot flight and transport coal from Kuzbass along the Yenisei via Krasnoyarsk and Lesosibirsk to Dudinka. And then transport it along the Northern Sea Route.
But still, it is unlikely that the current political situation will make it possible to make the NSR a major international transport corridor between Europe and Asia, as an alternative for European and Asian companies – routes through the Suez Canal (more than 1 billion tons of cargo passes through it a year) and bypassing Africa. However, in the previous plans for the development of the NSR, such an opportunity was not considered the main one, although such a route would be of interest to the countries of Northern Europe, China, Japan and South Korea. But now, in the matter of charging the NSR, we have to rely only on our own strength.
The traffic of our goods through the NSR is higher than expected, but in 2022 it seems to have decreased slightly compared to 2021, when 34.85 million tons of cargo passed through the NSR. By 2024, the figure is expected to more than double, to 71 million tons. These figures are not taken from the ceiling, but taking into account projects under construction, but many of them were associated with investors from hostile countries and depend on foreign technologies.
Another important point is related to the fact that, until now, most of the goods still pass through the western part of the NSR. Only liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2022 from the Yamal LNG project to Europe through the NSR 14.65 million tons were shipped (according to Kpler). In addition, Russian LNG supplies to Asia are known to have been shipped via the western route. Until December 2022, our Arctic oil was also shipped to Europe, and until February 2023, petroleum products. And these deliveries did not go through the eastern part of the NSR either.
Now it has become obvious that the NSR will become a truly profitable route for Russia only when year-round navigation to the east begins. It will be long and expensive to transport oil from Vostok Oil or coal from Northern Star to China via Europe. Eastbound sailing is now available from mid-June to mid-November.
Rosatom boss Alexei Likhachev recently announced joint plans with Novatek to open year-round shipping on the eastern part of the NSR from the beginning of next year, which means LNG from Yamal will be able to go to Asia bypassing high all of Europe. Likhachev also said that Rosatom is working with Russian companies on the possibility of transferring domestic oil by sea from Baltic ports to the NSR.
As analyst Dmitry Chernov points out, the most important thing about this idea is the absence of any penalty risk associated with ship insurance. That is, if we are talking about deliveries to China, then loading the NSR should be profitable even with the additional payment of freight for the icebreaker. But, for example, the route to India is almost twice as short through the Suez Canal – 7.7 thousand miles instead of 14 thousand miles – in this case it will not be profitable to use this route, Chernov believes.
At the same time, as an industry source told the RG, there is nothing driving oil and oil products through the NSR. We need tankers of a serious ice class, and for three months of sailing it is unprofitable to build them and certainly not quickly. It was Novatek that built ice-class gas carriers for itself, but mostly in South Korea, and this took several years.
On the other hand, such vessels are now being built in Russia. And for its safe operation on the route, constant monitoring of the ice situation along the NSR route is necessary. Yes, our new satellite constellation is scheduled to be put into orbit, but we will continue to receive most of the data from foreign satellites. And in today’s realities, this is not the most reliable plan.
According to Vasily Tikhonov, head of the Laboratory for Satellite Monitoring of the Earth’s Cryosphere, IKI RAN, the Arctic regions, at different times of the day and in different seasons, are inaccessible for observations in the visible and infrared ranges (we put such satellites in orbit -RG). That is, these satellites are useless during the polar night and during continuous cloudiness. The Arctic is covered by solid clouds 70% of the time. Promising for monitoring the NSR is the microwave range, the data of which does not depend on the illumination of the surface and the state of the atmosphere. This is, first of all, an active device called a “synthetic aperture locator” – high-resolution SAR – 1 meter, as well as a microwave radiometer for creating a general image of the surface of the Arctic region. It has a low resolution, about 10-20 km. We have specialists who can process this data, but there are no satellites carrying such instruments. For continuous monitoring of the NSR, about three SARs and two microwave radiometers are needed on different satellites. We only had one microwave radiometer in orbit, but now it is out of order, and there is not a single SAR, the expert clarifies.