North Sea Route 2023: Preliminary results of the year and plans for the future
Hydrocarbons, tangerines and a bit of ice for everyone16 november 2023
Starting next year, ships will operate year-round along the entire North Sea Route, as announced by Aleksey Likhachev, CEO of Rosatom State Corporation, at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of the Russian Government in May 2023. Today, in late autumn, Vladimir Panov, Rosatom's special representative for Arctic development, confirmed the company's optimism in an interview with Interfax. The steady growth of the Arctic transport artery is evident from the data—from January to October 2023, ships transported 31.4 mn tons of cargo from the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago to Cape Dezhnev in Chukotka, a 6% increase from the same period last year.
NSR transportation can be categorised into three groups: hydrocarbons and other raw materials from the Gulf of Ob and the Yenisei Bay, cargoes for Arctic investment projects and the Northern Supply Programme, and transit shipments. Transit shipments have reached a historical high, surpassing the 2021 level and totalling 2.12 mn tons. After a nearly 90% drop in transit last year due to heavy sanctions, the current level of transportation signifies the success of extensive efforts to develop the North Sea Route. According to Vladimir Panov, some cargo was redirected from the Suez Canal during the summer-autumn navigation period, and government support has been instrumental for Rosatom.
Nuclear icebreakers successfully escorted a record-breaking vessel through Arctic waters—the CapeSize bulk carrier Gingo, with a deadweight of over 169 thousand tons, was loaded with 164.5 thousand tons of iron ore concentrate and safely delivered to its destination.
This demonstrates the commercial viability of the NSR—what was met with scepticism by most experts five years ago has now become a reality.
Vladimir Panov highlighted that the majority of cargo transported via the NSR was oil, closely followed by iron ore concentrate. Rosneft's press service reported a record-breaking volume of cargo transported during the summer navigation period. Sea and river vessels completed 923 trips from Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Krasnoyarsk, Lesosibirsk and Dudinka to the company's oil production complex, delivering approximately 1.5 mn tons of cargo. In total, 402 vessels were involved in the operation. Liquefied gas is gradually gaining traction—both Gazprom and ELSI Mining have dispatched an LNG ship carrying 70,000 tons of gas.
Based on current data, the North Sea Route is experiencing steady growth, attracting increasing interest from both Russian and international companies. At present, commercial voyages are primarily conducted during the summer-autumn navigation period when icebreaker assistance is minimal. However, Rosatom's management envisions ways to make icebreaker services more appealing to clients in the future. This includes the construction of new vessels—the fifth and sixth nuclear icebreakers of Project 22220 are scheduled to be laid down in 2024 and 2025 respectively. In 2027, the lead nuclear icebreaker Rossiya of Project 10510, capable of breaking through 4 m of ice, is expected to be launched.
Meanwhile, winter navigation is commencing on the NSR. Icebreakers will
operate year-round from Murmansk to Dudinka, and within the next decade, the eastern part of the transport corridor is expected to become accessible. According to Maxim Kulinko, Deputy Head of the North Sea Route Directorate of Rosatom, by 2030, Arctic sea transportation will be routine. By then, 13 icebreakers should be operational, and real-time information will be provided to ships by the 'ice navigator' and Roscosmos satellite constellation. The transit time for ships is expected to be around 10 days throughout the year. Despite the unpredictable nature of the Arctic, Rosatom is confident in its ability to manage the icy conditions. By that time, international collaboration is anticipated to expand: China's New Shipping Line began transiting cargo from Chinese ports in 2023, and the pilot run has been deemed successful by both parties.