RUSSIA's state-owned Rosatom Group has been holding talks with VTB Bank to secure US$7 billion in funds to
acquire up to 55 ice-class containerships and upgrade port facilities
along the Arctic's Northern Sea Route (NSR), a shortcut between Asia and
Shipping traffic along Russia's Arctic
coastline continues to be at an all-time high, reaching 30 million tons
in 2019. The vast majority of this traffic comes from the transport of
oil and gas and general cargo. Container shipping, however, has been
very limited, with Maersk being the first company to send a
containership along the route last year, reported High North News, Bodo,
While most shipping experts remain sceptical that container shipping in
the Arctic is economically viable, Russia appears set on stepping into
direct competition with the Suez Canal. Just last month, the Ministry
for the Development of the Far East put forth a proposal to establish a
state-run box shipping company offering service between Murmansk in the
west and Kamchatka in the east.
This latest Russian initiative stands in direct conflict with efforts by
environmental advocates to limit the amount of shipping activity in the
region. In recent months several of the world's largest box shipping
companies, including CMA CGM and Hapag Lloyd, announced that they would
not operate in the Arctic, citing environmental concerns.
In contrast, Russia and its state-owned companies are pushing ahead with
the development of Arctic shipping routes as an avenue to export the
country's vast oil and gas resources - and, if Rosatom succeeds,
transport millions of cargo containers along the route.
The company plans to begin a container service along the route next
year. However, it remains unclear what vessels it will be using for the
service as it does not operate any containerships and ice-class
containerships are commonly purpose-built for shipping operators, such
as for service in the Baltic Sea.
Rosatom Group designs, builds and operates 35 nuclear plants in Russia
and sells nuclear technology abroad. Its subsidiary, Rosatomflot
operates the country's four nuclear icebreakers, one nuclear-powered
cargo vessel and a number of other icebreakers and service vessels. In
2018 Rosatom icebreakers escorted 331 vessels transporting 12.7 million
tons of cargo along the NSR.
"Serious questions have been raised about the commercial viability of
establishing regular container routes, for several reasons," said
Fridtjof Nansen Institute's senior research fellow Arild Moe.
"Due to shallow straits, the bigger - and most economic - container
vessels can't pass, the route is only usable part of the year, and even
in the summer, season ice can delay journeys, making it impossible to
guarantee just-in-time deliveries."