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In anticipation of warming

What prevents the Northern Sea Route from competing with the route through Suez, studied EastRussia

The Northern Sea Route (SMP) is a colossal logistical resource of Russia, but not yet a competitor route through the Suez Canal: it is expensive, unreliable and unavailable all year round. Experts interviewed by EastRussia believe that in the medium term, SMEs can make competitive investments through the Vladivostok Free Port regime, and in the long term - integration into global transport corridors and warming gradually increasing the period of navigation in the Arctic.

In anticipation of warming
Photo: shutterstock
Unreliable "dwarf"

In mid-January, due to the complex ice conditions in the East Siberian Sea, two dry cargo ships, accompanied by two icebreakers, could not leave the water area of ​​the Pevek port in Chukotka: the hull was icebound. Pevek is one of the key ports of the Northern Sea Route, stretching for 5,6 thousand km from Murmansk to Providence. Difficulties were found by the vessels already on the way back to the Northern Sea Route, after the successful delivery of construction materials for the construction of the floating nuclear thermal power plant Akademik Lomonosov. About a week later, one icebreaker managed to escape, the second and two dry cargo ships were left to winter in the polar latitudes.

According to the Ministry of Economic Development, for the last four years, the SMP demonstrated stable dynamics in domestic cargo transportation: 2013 million tons in 2,8, 2014 million tons in 3,7, 2015 million tons in 4,5, and 2016 million tons in 6,8. Russian companies engaged in the extraction of natural resources are actively using the Sevmorput. The lion's share of supplies falls on materials and equipment for the construction of the gas transportation infrastructure of Gazprom in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, the cargo of Norilsk Nickel, and the Arctic oil from the Prilazlomnaya platform. About 15% - for cargoes to the Arctic for the needs of the Ministry of Defense.

But in terms of the volume of international transcontinental shipments, the NSR, compared to the route through the Suez Canal, looks like a dwarf: several dozen vessels a year against 15-20 thousand ships across Suez. Moreover, the volume of transit freight through the NSR for the last four years has fallen sharply: from 1,3 million tons in 2013 to 240 thousand tons in 2016. The main reasons: the price of marine fuel, the remaining complex ice conditions in the Arctic, undeveloped infrastructure.

According to Evgeny Novoseltsev, Deputy Director General of the Far Eastern Research, Design and Survey, and Design and Technological Institute of the Marine Fleet, one of the main problems in the development of transport communications in the Arctic is that “in Russia there is not a single large shipping company that would see its own commercial interest in the organization of large-scale Arctic shipping, primarily transit navigation. " Therefore, having a high potential for the development of container ports-hubs in Murmansk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia is still unable to organize a stable transit of containers on the Europe-Asia line relying on these ports.

EastRussia Help. Since the tsarist times, the Northern Sea Route is considered the main arctic highway in Russia - the route connects the Far East with the European part of the country. Since 1991, the Northern Sea Route has been opened for the international trade navigation of the fleets of all states. The vessels and non-Arctic ice classes are allowed into the water area. Icebreaker fleet services for wiring are provided by nuclear icebreakers Rosatomflot and diesel icebreakers of Rosmorport, Murmansk Shipping Company, Far Eastern Shipping Company and LUKOIL. The cost of one day of work of the icebreaker is from several hundred thousand to several million rubles.

The NSR is objectively not very profitable in terms of transit cargo, says Evgeny Novoseltsev. For year-round through navigation along the Northern Sea Route, it is necessary to build Arctic container ships. The cost of one such vessel with a capacity of 2500 TEU is 2,5 times higher than the cost of a traditional container ship. At the same time, in the summer, the cost of shipping containers via the NSR is on average 33-35% lower than the cost of shipping them through the Suez Canal. However, for such shipments, the reliability, timeliness and regularity of delivery are not guaranteed. The profitability of the NSR is also hit hard by the fact that many insurance companies do not undertake to insure ships sailing along the NSR route. The reason is the impossibility of an accurate assessment of all risks.

The preliminary calculations of the Sovcomflot company, which are referred to by the Institute of Economic Research of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, are definitely not in favor of the NSR. According to them, the costs for the transit of a consignment of 30 thousand tons of bulk cargo along the southern corridor through the Suez Canal are about $ 80 thousand, and when passing through the NSR - $ 688 thousand.

Start from the Yellow Sea

Certainly, the Northern Sea Route wins the route through Suez along the length: from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok via the Northern Sea Route - about 14,3 thousand km, through the Suez Canal - 23,2 thousand km. From Hamburg (Germany) to Yokohama (Japan) via the 12 NSR, thousand kilometers through Suez - 20,5 thousand. That's why representatives of the Asia-Pacific countries say at expert sites that the Northern Sea Route is a potential alternative to the way through the Suez Canal. Japan’s special envoy for the Arctic as ambassador to Russia, Kazuko Shiraishi, even said that the Japanese are ready to send up to 40% of their cargoes that go to Europe via the Indian Ocean. Only large-scale investments can eliminate the shortcomings of the Northern Sea Route.

“Great prospects for the development of the Northern Sea Route, I believe, are opened by the special regime of the Free Port of Vladivostok (FPV). Within the framework of FPV, at the expense of resident investors, it would be possible to build up a chain of logistics powerful points for the collection of containers. Then form large container consignments from them in ports such as Vladivostok or Zarubino, for example, and send them to Europe using the Northern Sea Route, ”says Mikhail Robkanov, a member of the Association of Russian Sea Trade Ports. In order for Vladivostok and the NSR to turn from a potential link into a real one, he notes, "it is necessary to develop its container component: more than half of all transcontinental shipping is carried out by container ships." “Of course, this will require investments both in the construction of additional powerful nuclear icebreakers and ice-class transport ships,” admits Mikhail Robkanov.

Member of the Presidium of the General Council of the "Business Russia" Dmitry Purim does not believe that in the next ten years the Northern Sea Route could seriously compete with the transcontinental sea crossing through the southern seas and the Suez Canal: "The climate in the Arctic is extremely volatile and difficult to forecast." But SMP plays an extremely important role in the development of oil and gas projects, and vice versa, he admits. "As for the Freeport regime with respect to the points of the Northern Sea Route, while one Pevek is included in this regime, it is too early to speak about any improvement in efficiency. Today, at the governmental level, the possibility of creating territories for advanced development in the Arctic and the expansion of the port-franco regime to the main ports of the Northern Sea Route is being discussed. But the program is only beginning to develop, it will be possible to evaluate its effectiveness only in the long term, "- says Dmitry Purim.

At the Institute of Economic Research FEB RAS are sure that the key to the successful development of the NSR is its integration into larger transport corridors. "Russia and China are already discussing the project" Sea Silk Road of the XXI century. " It is expected that this route will start from the seaport of Lianyungang (Jiangsu Province on the Yellow Sea coast), along the eastern coast of China, then along the seas of the Russian Far East, from there to the North Sea Route, and thence to Europe, "says the AIE DVO officer RAS Elena Zaostrovskikh. According to her, one of the largest shipping companies of the world Maersk Line signed a contract with the shipbuilding company COSCO Shipyard Co., Ltd (China) in 2015 for the construction of seven ice-class container ships with the capacity of 3600 TEU. The vessels should be handed over to the customer in the second half of the year 2017. The proposed region of work is the North Atlantic, but it is possible that the Arctic as well, the representative of the institute believes.

Meanwhile, the chance to break into a full-fledged global transport corridor in the NSR is due to global warming, which, according to many years of research, leads to a rapid melting of the Arctic ice cover. So, according to NASA's cartographic data, the area of ​​Arctic ice in the period from 1984 to 2016 years decreased from 6,4 to 4,14 million square meters. Kilometers, that is, one and a half times. During this time, the navigation period, when it is possible to pass through the NSR without escorting icebreakers, has grown: instead of July-October, now it is June-November.

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