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2020 July 6

Interview with Rosmorrechflot head Aleksandr Poshivai

Low water level in some sections of inland water ways, capital intensity of fleet upgrading, high cost of fuel, tough competition with other types of transport are among the problems of river shipping in Russia. In his interview with IAA PortNews, Aleksandr Poshivai, head of Rosmorrechflot (Federal Marine and River Transport Agency), touches on these problems as well as the cruise tourism as a sector most affected by the pandemic.

- Mr. Poshivai, what are priority tasks for the development of inland water transport in Russia?

- One of the top targets of the state is to create conditions for the business activities with respect of citizens’ rights and interests. The framework condition for functioning of inland water transport is the guaranteed IWW depth. Therefore, the construction of Nizhegorodsky hydrosystem aimed at debottlenecking of the Unified Deep Water System of European Russia is still a priority. As of today, we have entered a new phase of the project approval by the Nizhny Novgorod Region Government. The Government of the Russian Federation has already been involved. It is the remedial action in response to cumulative environmental damage that is a “stumbling point” of the project implementation. This issue is among the priorities on the federal level being under permanent control of Deputy Prime Minister Marat Husnullin.

Unfortunately, the lengthened discussion with regional authorities has lead to amendment of the project’s initial schedule and it is clear that it can hardly be completed by the end of 2024. However, all these circumstances do not down-grade the significance of an efficient solution to the Volga bottleneck between Gorodets and Nizhny Novgorod and we will do everything to solve this problem essential for river shipping.

Today, we are striving to maintain the waterway on an optimal level.

Among the priorities are also the construction of Bagayevsky hydrosystem on the Don river, comprehensive projects on reconstruction of infrastructure facilities being implemented in nine basins of inland water ways.

Generally speaking, the priority is the cruise segment of river transport. The range of cargoes transported by rivers is clear while cruise shipping can develop only with new assets as the old ones are beneath criticism. Modernization of ships is limited. This year, when tourism is focused mainly on domestic routes we have a chance that should be used for the development of national river cruises. Rosmorrechflot will do its best for that purpose.

- What does Rosmorrechflot undertake towards cruise shipping development?

- Key challenges hindering the development of river transportation of passengers including tourists are bottlenecks on IWW (first of all, the section below the Gorodetsky hydrosystem), lack of passenger ships complying with current safety and comfort requirements, short tourism season and high cost of marine fuel.

From our part, we are striving to address those problems.

We have completed reconstruction of the Kuzminsky hydrosystem, this year we will put into operation the Beloomut hydrosystem allowing for raising the level of the Oka river and, consequently, revive the Golden Ring of Russia route.

Besides, light aids to navigation have been installed on the White Sea – Baltic Canal to the Solovki islands and a berth has been equipped on the Konevets island in the Ladoga lake.

We are also ready to provide administrative assistance to construction of passenger terminals financed by investors.

In 2018-2019, the Leningrad Region saw construction and commissioning of Oreshek and Svirstroy passenger terminals, Ivanovo Region  - Kineshma terminal financed by private investors. In 2019, new berths were put into operation in Dubrovka and Kirishy of the Leningrad Region, in Elabuga of the Tatarstan, near the Alexander Nevsky bridge of Saint-Petersburg and two berths on the opposite bank. In 2020, investors are to finance the construction of passenger terminals in Veliky Novgorod  (Novgorod Region) and in Sortavala (Republic of Karelia).

Ulyanovsk Region Government is discussing the construction of a new passenger terminal in Ulyanovsk under the federal targeted programme “Development of domestic and inbound tourism in the Russian Federation”.

Khabarovsk Terminal Government is looking into construction of a new river terminal in Khabarovsk to service passengers on local and international routes which is to give an impetus to the development of inbound tourism in the region and in the Russian Federation as a whole.

The above mentioned projects will contribute to the development of passenger transportation by inland water transport.

We also proceed towards simplification of visa regime for passengers coming to Russia by cruise ships. According to Rosmorrechflot, providing foreign citizens with a right of 15-day long visa-free stay in the Russian Federation on board cruise ships carrying foreign tourists along inland water ways of Russia will raise the inbound tourism flow and, consequently, boost budget revenues, development of transport and tourism infrastructure, implementation of shipbuilding programmes.    

- Will new cruise routes opened this year?

- Among the new cruise routes launched this year I would mention the ones on the Lena and the Yenisei rivers. They are actually tours of expedition or education purpose. Those areas with their unique natural attractions are really exotic and I am sure in the success of such routes.

To arrange a Krasnoyarsk-Dudinka cruise route and develop shipping on the Yenisei river, Vodohod shifted its comfortable ship Maxim Gorky from Volga in 2019. Besides, construction of two comfortable passenger ships with passenger capacity of 245 people each began for the route. The ships are to be delivered to the customer in 2023 and in 2024.

Besides, shipping company Sozvezdiye is set to arrange a cruise on the Baikal lake.

- The issue of fleet upgrading is still urgent in Russia. What measures are undertaken to encourage ship owners build new ships?

- As of today, 2,252 technically sound passenger ships operate on Russia’s IWW. 247 vessels have been built over the recent five years.

A number of state support measures have been undertaken for development of shipping companies in the Russian Federation. Among them are some tax and customer privileges, subsidies to cover interest rates on credits and lease payments, ship utilization grant (subsidy for companies placing orders for commercial ships at domestic shipyards to replace the scrapped ships).

Thus, the Government has created conditions for river fleet upgrading through application of state support instruments.

In 2016 and 2017, two ships were laid down under the subsidized leasing programme for passenger ships of Ministry of Industry and Trade. Peotr Veliky of PV300VD design and Mustay Karim of PV300 design were laid down by Astrakhan Region based Lotos shipyard and Nizhny Novgorod based Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard accordingly. The Mustay Karim is to leave for its maiden voyage in the nearest future. The detailed design of those ships was developed in 2011 to the order of Rosmorrechflot under the programme “Development of civil marine facilities”.

Besides, Lotos shipyard is building two shallow-draft cruise liners of Golden Ring type for Gama Group. One of them is to be put into operation in 2021.

In terms of port state control, we are striving to ensure maximum comfort for passengers, crews and ship owners.

We understand that it is time to do our best to support cruise shipping that has just started developing. Throughout the previous years we were just taking advantage of the potential remained from the soviet times. In that period, cruise ships were built in the Soviet bloc countries. Now, a breakthrough is possible in this segment: for the first time in modern Russia, domestic shipyards are building several modern cruise ships and we hope that will serve as a foundation for further fleet upgrading.

- How deep is the pandemic impact on this year navigation?

- Of course, nobody could expect this year navigation to be virtually next to none this year. The remaining period will not generally improve the situation. We hope that inclusion of passenger water transport into the list of industries most affected by the pandemic will ensure considerable support to shipping companies of Russia.

Rosmorrechflot’s statistics on river cruise segment of Russia

In 2019, inland water transport carried 11 million passengers including 340,500 tourists.

The majority of tourists routes are arranged in the European part of Russia with the routes between Moscow/Saint-Petersburg and Volga cities being the most popular ones. Key departure ports are Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Perm. Almost 100 cruise ships were involved in 2019. Their average age is 46 years.  Half of them operate on Moscow - Saint-Petersburg - Moscow route carrying foreign tourists.  

Water tourism is not well developed in Siberia and in the Far East. Before 2020, tourists were transported by water only in the Lena Basin by the only ship in the Ob-Irtysh Basin.

Interviewed by Vitaly Chernov.

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