• 2015 September 7

    Striking northward

    In his speech at the Eastern Economic Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on ensuring regular container transportation along the Northern Sea Route. In Russia, this issue is being worked over under the auspices of CNIIMF, which talks IAA PortNews though the progress.

    The Arctic welcomes containers

    While speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum about the transport links in the Asia-Pacific region Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the development of the Northern Sea Route a competitive transport corridor of global significance, “including for container traffic that dominates in the world cargo turnover”.  “I would like the Government to continue these efforts”, the President said.

    Interestingly, this statement was made at the time when American experts marked the USA lagging behind Russia in the Arctic development process.

    It should be noted that the prospects of regular container traffic along the Northern Sea Route looks quite exotic so far, though dynamic construction of powerful icebreakers, primarily nuclear-powered ones, can facilitate the process in the nearest future.

    The idea of a container line at the Northern Sea Route is not a new one.

    In early December 2013, it was voiced by Dmitry Filonenko, an independent expert in freight transport. According to his proposal, operators of this line could start with time-chartering of vessels while possessing their own containers fleet with the depot in South Korea based port of Busan and providing freight, agency services and the container fleet. Subsequently, Filonenko said, this line (preliminary named Polar Sea Line) could become a shipowner, ordering newbuilds.

    Later on, Vitaly Zbarashchenko, expert of the Executive Committee at the Transport Council of CIS Countries, said that cargo shipping by the Arctic container line could make some 6 mln t per year. According to him, the line operating at the Northern Sea Route should be services by 6 vessels.

    An advisor to the Governor of Kamchatka Territory Nikolai Pegin, in his turn, said this line could be serviced by three Arc 7 container carries, each cost estimated at $ 120 million. In this case, the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky could become a container hub in the east for the distribution of cargoes shipped through the Northern Sea Route. This requires a comprehensive overhaul and seismic strengthening of berths 2,000 m in length, the expansion of the port territory up to 53 hectares to build a new seaport building. If this project turns out to be successful, the port's throughput could rise to 8 million tonnes a year or even more. Nikolai Pegin identifies among the advantages of the port the presence of a convenient harbour with depths up to 26 meters, and its ability to provide calling ships with bunker fuel to ships and other supplies.

    As the first Vice-Governor of the Murmansk region Alexei Tyukavin told IAA PortNews, Atomflot is to deploy the LASH carrier Sevmorput from 2016. The vessel will let considerably expand the time frame of transit transportation along the NSR. In this case, the NSR can take over cargoes supplying the Far East regions, first of all Kamchatka, which are traditionally delivered from the European part of the country by railway and then by sea. So, domestic cargo base can be formed for this route, first of all, fish products. Fish is supposed to be transported both from the Far East to Murmansk and in the opposite direction, particularly with the cargo for Kamchatka and Magadan regions. Shipping by the Northern Sea Route will considerably reduce the cost of fish transportation to the markets of Russia’s European part and, consequently, fish price. For that purpose, Murmansk has a dedicated fishing port with well developed infrastructure, sufficient storage facilities and refrigerating facilities.

    Northern shuttle

    Currently, the development of a concept project for an Arctic container carrier and a work layout for the round-the-year Arctic container line is being carried out at Central Marine Research and Design Institute (CNIIMF), which won the dedicated competition announced by the Federal Marine and River Transport Agency (Rosmorrechflot).

    As IAA PortNews was told at the CNIIMF meeting held in late July 2015 and attended by the representatives of the Northern Sea Route Administration, Commercial Seaport of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, FSUE Atomflot, PAO Sovcomflot, Murmansk Shipping Company OJSC, Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute and other stakeholders, experts have come to a conclusion that Russian coastal trade cargo cannot fully load the container line to make it economically viable. 

    Creation of two hub ports in the North and in the Far East (in Murmansk and in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky) could be a solution earlier proposed by the representatives of the mentioned regions. Establishment of hub ports has already been predetermined with plans on construction of a container terminal in Murmansk (Lavna) and the plans for reconstruction of port Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. 

    Experts believe the hub ports can ensure balanced operation of a container line with the use of an ice class shuttle container carrier while non-ice-class boxships of increased capacity will be deployed for transportation of containers to/from hub ports. This is supposed to attract part of the transit cargo currently carried via the Suez Canal.

    Arctic shuttles are supposed to have container capacity of at least 2,000 TEUs. Preliminary elaborations have been performed for a boxship with a capacity of 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 TEUs. Taking into consideration that the lane for boxships will be cleared by a nuclear-powered icebreaker ЛК-60Я their width will be 32.2 m, like that of a standard Panamax container carrier. Boxships of all designs will have a three-shaft propulsion plant with total power of 45 MW. The ships are to be equipped with 15MW Azipod propulsion units similar to those installed at large capacity gas carriers being built under Yamal-LNG project.

    Arctic shuttles will reportedly feature an improved conventional shape of a bow to ensure icebreaking capability of at least 2.1 meters. In summer-autumn period they will be able to sail independently along the Northern Sea Route. Preliminary estimates provide for optimization of the demand for icebreaking support. For round-the-year operation at NSR with the assistance of icebreakers, the vessels’ ice class under Russian Maritime Register of Shipping should not be below Arc7.

    Arc9 boxship with the capacity of 4,000 TEUs has an alternative design intended for independent round-the-year navigation at the Northern Sea Route. This ship will feature improved characteristics, power and icebreaking capability.

    Further technical-economic calculations will let determine optimal characteristics for the basic design. Performance specifications, design specifications, rough and detailed design will be prepared then, CNIIMF says.

    Vitaly Chernov, based on CNIIMF materials.