Warmer climate could add an extra month per year to Northern Sea Route navigation

Warmer climate could add an extra month per year to Northern Sea Route navigation
Global warming will add an extra month of ship navigation to Russia's Northern Route
By bne IntelliNews November 14, 2018

Global warming that has already produced consistently higher temperatures mean that the navigation along the Russia's Northern Sea Route could be extended by one additional month each year, Tass said on November 12 citing Professor Oleg Anisimov of the State Hydrology Institute said on Friday.

"Currently, the Northern Sea Route’s exploitation term is about two months, and forecasts based on climate models say the term may be extended by another month in the middle of the century, making it three months, which opens new economic opportunities," Anisimov argues, as cited by Tass.

The navigation would still require ice breakers, although the ice will be thinner, other researchers presenting alongside Anisimov said. The northern route is an alternative shipping route to sailing around the Horn of Africa and cuts weeks off the trip between Europe and Asia.

In 2017, the cargo flow via the Northern Sea Route amounted to 10.7mn tonnes, and its capacity is planned to be expanded to 40mn tonnes by 2020 due to the projects that developed in the ports of Sabetta and Murmansk.

After sending the first container ship Venta Maersk loaded with 3,600 containers through the Northern Sea Route in September, Maersk representatives told the Financial Times that "we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial alternative to our existing routes." 

The main problem of the Northern Sea Route, which became possible due to thinning of ice, is that only narrow container ships with limited capacity accompanied by atomic icebreakers can pass, while the standard ships circulating between Asia and Europe fit about 20,000 containers. The route also does not pass many markets, allowing little uploading diversification, and is not available all year long. 

Nevertheless, Kremlin is still betting on the development of the route as it is well suited for tanker transportation of oil and gas, with most of the total turnover so far accounting for oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments of Novatek Russian gas producer.

On November 12 in a separate report Reuters said that new ice-breaking tanker Georgiy Brusilov  capable of navigating the Arctic on its own left South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding and is set to load its first LNG from Novatek's Yamal plant. This will make the seventh ARC7-class LNG carrier to join the Yamal fleet.

While the Arc7 carriers can serve the Northern Sea Route during the summer from northern Russia to Asia, during winter serve westward directions and either deliver to northwest Europe or transfer LNG for onward journeys to Asia.

Recent reports suggested that Russian gas giant Gazprom could also try to benefit from developing Northern Sea Route infrastructure by building Russia's most northern railway to Sabetta port together with Russian Railways.