The Arctic is a key strategic region, a zone of interests for Arctic nations such as Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland, as well as for the European Union and the countries of Southeast Asia. It is attractive in terms of its offshore oil and gas development potential and the possibility of shortening transcontinental traffic routes.
The Arctic region is a priority area for Russian maritime activities. The state programme "Shipbuilding Development for 2013–2030
" (2012) has set two objectives as part of the main priorities of Russia's state policy:
– the effective and environmentally friendly development of offshore hydrocarbon fields on the Russian Arctic shelf;
– ensuring the effective use of the Northern Sea Route and its transformation into an international transit corridor.
The Arctic Circle takes up around 6 per cent of the Earth's surface area. Yet the Arctic continental shelf accounts for around 13 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 per cent of its gas reserves (according to 2008 US Geological Survey estimates).
More than 95 per cent of Russia's platinum-group metals, 90 per cent of its nickel and cobalt, and 60 per cent of its copper, as well as almost all of its explored titanium, tin, antimony, apatite, phlogopite, vermiculite, barium sulphate and around half of all its coal resources are concentrated in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation. The subsurface Arctic zone contains 70 to 90 per cent of Russia's gold, diamond, lead, bauxite and other mineral reserves.
The Northern Sea Route is the main shipping artery of the Russian Artic, and the basis for the development of the Arctic transportation system. It is the shortest sea route connecting European Russia with the Far East, runs through the rivers of the Arctic Ocean (the Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Chukchi seas) and part of the Pacific Ocean (the Bearing Sea). Administratively, the Northern Sea Route encompasses the area from the western entrances to the Straits of Novaya Zemlya and the meridian passing to the north of Cape Zhelaniya to the Bering Strait in the east at the 66th
parallel north and the 168°58'37"W meridian. The Northern Sea Route is roughly 5600km in length from the Kara Strait to Providence Bay. The distance from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok along the Northern Sea Route is more than 14,000km, and upwards of 23,000km via the Suez Canal.
The Northern Sea Route serves ports in the Arctic Ocean, as well as in the major Siberian rivers (importing fuel, equipment and food, and exporting timber and minerals). The main ports along the Northern Sea Route are in Igarka, Dudinka, Dikson, Tiksi, Pevek and Providence Bay.
In accordance with the Russian Shipbuilding Development doctrine
for the period until 2030 (in its new edition dated July 26), Russia's national interests with regard to the Northern Sea Route should be guaranteed by centralized management of the transportation system, icebreaking services, and providing fair and equal access to interested carriers, including international carriers.
Organizationally, the Northern Sea Route is divided as follows: the western sector of the Arctic, from Murmansk to Dudinka, is served by Murmansk Shipping Company icebreakers; and the eastern sector, from Dudinka to Chukotka, is served by Far East Shipping Company icebreakers.
In 2010, four vessels crossed the Northern Sea Route. By 2011, that number had increased to 34. Hydrocarbons continued to be transported to the Far East, using large-capacity tankers with full loads along the high-latitude route in the New Siberian Islands. Iron ore concentrate continued to be transported from Murmansk and Norway. Russia's largest vessel, the Vladimir Tikhonov tanker (the Sovcomflot-produced ship has a deadweight of 162,000 tons), crossed the high-latitude route from west to east, delivering 120,800 tonnes of gas condensate. Refrigerated fish products are now shipped along the Northern Sea Route, from the Far East to St. Petersburg (four such deliveries have been made so far). There are plans to transport fertilizer from the Kola Peninsula and non-ferrous metals from Norilsk to Asia-Pacific countries via the Northern Sea Route (from west to east). Meanwhile, urea is expected to be transported in the opposite direction from China, as are copper-nickel ore from the Kamchatka Peninsula (to Dudinka), consumer goods, electronics, fish products, etc.
Forty-six vessels completed transit runs along the Northern Sea Route in 2012. The number rose to 71 in 2013, before dropping to 53 in 2014. Freight volume decreased by more than 76 per cent in this period, from 1,355,897 tons in 2013 to 74,000 tons in 2014. According to experts, there are a number of reasons for this.
First, Northern Sea Route development in 2015 has to a large extent been determined by the situation on the oil market. Falling oil prices have meant that oil production in the Arctic has become unprofitable. Middle Eastern oil is a more viable alternative – it is easier to produce and costs less. The short Arctic route could make the navigational risks worthwhile if the oil was expensive. But the price of oil is low right now, and transporting freight along the Indian Ocean is more cost effective. And we are not just talking about oil from the Middle East. Everything that can be found in the Arctic can also be found elsewhere, in more accessible areas.
Second, the anti-Russian sanctions have played a large role in diminishing the prestige of the Northern Sea Route. ExxonMobil, for example, has put a halt to its cooperation with the Russian companies Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas and Rosneft. Foreign companies involved in the construction of ships for the Northern Sea Route have also fallen victim to the sanctions.
Third, during the second half of 2014, doubts started to arise as to the ability of Russia to ensure the functioning of the Northern Sea Route from a financial standpoint.
There are two factors that determine the level of interest in the Northern Sea Route among foreign shipping companies and businesspeople. First
. The Northern Sea Route could become more profitable than alternative shipments carried out between ports in Europe, the Far East and North America via the Suez or Panama canals. The route from Murmansk to Yokohama via the Suez Canal is 12,840 nautical miles, or 5770 nautical miles if you travel via the Northern Sea Route. The Rotterdam–Yokohama route along the Indian Ocean is 11,200 nautical miles. The distance is reduced by 3900 nautical miles, or 34 per cent, if you use the Northern Sea Route. This would cut travel time from 33 days to 20 days and therefore reduce shipping costs. Second
. The Northern Sea Route is attractive to foreign parties as an artery for transporting minerals from Russia's Arctic regions, which make up 35 per cent of the world's oil and gas reserves. Transporting Russian oil and gas by sea may turn out to be more advantageous than building gas or oil pipelines. What is more, the Northern Sea Route can be used to transport mineral fertilizers from the Kola Peninsula to East Asia and China.
On the whole, foreign ship owners recognize the potential of the Northern Sea Route, but they believe that it will take years before the route becomes commercially viable. The heads of shipping companies fear that sudden changes in the weather on Northern Sea Route waters could cause their ships to arrive late at their destination (in which case they would have to pay a penalty), or force them to engage the help of icebreakers (which in a force majeure situation would increase the cost of freight). Atmospheric instability, drifting icebergs and first-year ice fields which can be just as dangerous to the hull of a ship, are also risk factors. It is still unclear whether the climate changes taking place in the Arctic right now are long-term in nature, or whether the current cycle of warming will give way to another period of cooling in 10 to 20 years' time (which would make navigating the Northern Sea Route more difficult). If the warming does continue, then the melting ice in the region, according to scientists, will have negative consequences as well. In particular, there will be an increased risk of strong winds and extreme waves. Icebergs will form and the Russian shores will suffer increased erosion. The Strategy for the Socioeconomic Development of Siberia until 2020 adopted in 2010
notes that the effective use of Northern Sea Route resources is a key factor in the successful economic development of Siberia.
The new Rules of Navigation in the Water Area of the Northern Sea Route
approved by order of the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation on January 17, 2013, replacing the existing rules from 1990, were developed in accordance with paragraphs 2 and 4 of Federal Law No. 81-FZ "Merchant Shipping Code of the Russian Federation" dated April 30, 1999
and Paragraph 126.96.36.199 of the Statute on the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation dated July 30, 2004
. The Rules set out the procedure for navigating Northern Sea Route waters, icebreaker regulations; regulations for piloting ships along the Northern Sea Route; provisions on the navigational, hydrographic and hydro-meteorological support for vessels; the rules for communicating by radio when navigating vessels; maritime safety requirements and requirements on the protection of the marine environment from pollution from ships, etc.
The Northern Sea Route Administration (hereinafter the Administration) has been tasked with ensuring compliance with the Rules of Navigation. It was set up as a Federal state Institution by Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation on March 15, 2013 and in accordance with Paragraph 3 Article 5 of the Merchant Shipping Code. Its functions include ensuring the safety of maritime navigation and protecting the Northern Sea Route's marine environment from pollution from ships.
A licensing procedure is in effect for vessels travelling across Northern Sea Route waters. The general prerequisites for admission are compliance with the construction, equipment and logistical requirements for ships travelling along the Northern Sea Route. Vessels that do not have an insurance certificate or other proof of financial liability on the part of the ship owner for damage caused to the marine environment on board are not allowed to travel on the Northern Sea Route. Applications for authorization must be filed (on the internet) no earlier than 120 days, and no later than 15 days, prior to the date that the vessel is expected to enter Northern Sea Route waters. Ships are not required to be inspected before they are scheduled to set sail. Information about the need for icebreaker assistance in light, medium and heavy conditions is indicated in the authorization delivered by the Administration (Paragraph 10 Subparagraph 6 of the Rules of Navigation in the Water Area of the Northern Sea Route
The official website of the Federal Marine and River Transport Agency
contains an application form on the readiness of a ship to enter Northern Sea Route waters. Once the application has been reviewed a decision is made with regard to the ship's suitability for sailing in Arctic conditions. At the same time, the ship is assessed in terms of protecting Arctic ecosystems. A necessary element of navigating in Arctic conditions is icebreaking support and pilotage. According to the Rules, the costs of icebreaking support and pilotage services is determined by the legislation on natural monopolies. It should be emphasized that no fees are charged for transiting across the Northern Sea Route. Rather, fees are charged based on the services actually rendered, taking into account the class of the ship, its capacity, the distance travelled and the time at sea.
As for exercising state control over foreign vessels sailing along the Northern Sea Route, the federal executive authority in charge of security, together with the federal executive authority in charge of defence, and the federal executive authority in charge of transport, can terminate the rights of a foreign vessel if it is not in compliance with Russian security requirements, is not properly equipped, or if it is deemed unsuitable to sail in icy conditions. The decision can be made to provide pilotage support to foreign vessels in the relevant region and in the correct amount.
The list of seaports open to foreign vessels is published in the trade journal Izveshcheniya moreplavatelyam
. The criminal, civil and administrative codes of the Russian Federation apply to all foreign vessels, passengers and crew members for the period during which the vessel is docked at a Russian port.
In 2014, more than 600 foreign ships crossed the Northern Sea Route along Russian territorial waters. In 2012, that number was just three.
Let us take a look at the acceptance and refusal statistics for 2013/2014:
– applications received: 718/644;
– permits granted: 635/614, of which 127/109 were for foreign ships (20 per cent/18 per cent);
– refusals: 83/30;
– subsequent refusals: 18 (3.5 per cent) / 7 (1 per cent).
According to the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, transport ships are divided into two categories depending on the ice region: 1) Arctic ships, which are allowed to sail in the Bering, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Chukchi seas; 2) non-Arctic ships, which are allowed to sail in non-Arctic freezing seas. In addition, the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping has allocated two more categories of vessels: icebreakers and ice-class tug boats.
Ice-class vessels are primarily designed to navigate through ice-covered waters, including moving in the lanes between ice floes and negotiating cracks in ice fields and areas of rather thin solid ice. A secondary purpose of ice-class vessels is to navigate in ice broken up by icebreakers.
Ice-class ships are divided into nine categories depending on their purpose and design.
Ice-class ships that comply will all the relevant requirements set out in the Rules are given one of the following signs denoting the ice strengthening category, which is put next to the main class symbol: Ice1 (LU1), Ice2 (LU2), Ice3 (LU3), Arc4 (LU4), Arc5 (LU5), Arc6 (LU6), Arc7 (LU7), Arc8 (LU8) and Arc9 (LU9). The designations in brackets were used until 2007.
The category Ice1 applies to vessels that can only sail in freezing non-Arctic seas (non-Arctic vessels). The conditions for these ships are set by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping.
The categories Arc4–Arc9 apply to vessels intended for Arctic seas (Arctic vessels). The Russian Maritime Register of Shipping sets the restrictions for the independent sailing of these ships on ice.
The basis for save navigation in icy conditions along the Northern Sea Route and its year-round operation is a powerful icebreaker fleet. Icebreakers are specialized vessels designed to carry out various kinds of icebreaking operations: providing safe waterways through ice for other ships, negotiating ice bridges, laying canals, towing, rescuing ships from the ice, and rescue operations.
At the present time, 10 liner, 6 nuclear- and 4 diesel-powered icebreakers operate on Northern Sea Route waters.
The development of Russia's icebreaker fleet is carried out under federal target programmes. The nuclear-powered fleet is expected to be expanded to include double-draft icebreakers. A double-draft universal nuclear-powered icebreaker with a variable draft will be produced for the first time. It will have two working drafts, one 10.5 metres and the other 8.5 metres. This means that it will be able to operate on open waters as well as in shallow coastal areas and estuaries. It should be noted that diesel-electric icebreakers with a power output similar to that of nuclear-powered icebreakers (55 MW) would burn around 300 tons of fossil fuels per day, polluting the air basin. Independent navigation requires up to 20,000 tons of fuel for a two-month journey. And this would be with a draft of 12–13 metres, which would mean that it could not operate in the relatively shallow Arctic waters. Fully fuelled nuclear-powered icebreakers can run continuously for four to five years. The working draft is around 10.5 metres on Arktika
-class icebreakers, and 8.5 metres on Taymyr
-class icebreakers. This allows them to operate in Arctic seas and ports with virtually no restrictions in terms of depth. Finally, given the existing prices for fossil and nuclear fuels, the cost of cutting a one mile channel with a nuclear-powered icebreaker is six to eight times less than with a diesel-electric icebreaker.
There are two basic modes of ice navigation during rescue operations: continuous breaking and ramming.
Icebreaker assistance in Northern Sea Route waters is carried out by vessels that have the right to fly the flag of the Russian Federation (Article 15 of the Merchant Shipping Code of the Russian Federation).
Icebreaker assistance includes ensuring the safe passage of ships located within radio coverage zone of the icebreaker (Channel 16 VHF) through Northern Sea Route waters. This includes: carrying out ice patrols, providing safe waterways through the ice, forming groups of ships, aligning ships to follow the icebreaker, towing ships through the channel cut out by the icebreaker, and leading individual ships and groups of ships through the ice.
In accordance with the Regulations on the Administration of the Northern Sea Route and the Rules of Navigation in the Water Area of the Northern Sea Route, the requirements regarding the construction of ships, their equipment and logistics for ships have been developed. The requirements take into account particularly difficult and dangerous conditions and are aimed at ensuring safe navigation and preventing pollution of the marine environment and the northern coast of Russia. This is one of the most vulnerable areas. Therefore, existing legislation prohibits the discharge of oil and other hazardous substances or mixtures that contain substances in excess of the established norms.
These requirements apply, unless otherwise stated, to all vessels with a gross tonnage of at least 300 tons travelling the Northern Sea Route. Vessels with a gross tonnage that is less than 300 gross register tons require special permission from the administration.
In addition to satisfying the above-mentioned requirements, ships travelling the Northern Sea Route must also comply with the Rules of the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, that is, they must display the ice strengthening category of the icebreaker with the symbol denoting its class – Arc4 (LU4), Arc5 (LU5) or Arc6 (LU6) – or the equivalent ice strengthening category as set by a different classification organization. They must also follow rules set out by international conventions, as well as the Code of the International Maritime Organization.
Ships designated as ice strengthening category Arc4 (LU4) by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping or a different classification organization may be admitted by the Administration in the western region and individual areas of the eastern region of the Northern Sea Route, provided that it is the summer navigation period, the sailing conditions are favourable and that they follow icebreakers.
Icebreakers are allowed to sail the Northern Sea Route in ice conditions that correspond to their ice strengthening category. Permission to sailing in icy conditions that exceed the ice strengthening category of a given ship is determined by the Administration on a case-by-case basis upon consideration of the documentation provided by the ship owner. The documents confirm that the state of the icebreaker's hull, mechanisms and systems provide the necessary levels safety for navigating the intended region, and that the vessel will not pollute the marine environment.
Ships designated as ice strengthening category Ice3 (LU3) may be permitted in exceptional cases with special permission from the Administration, provided that it is the summer navigation period in the western part of the Northern Sea Route and the sailing conditions are favourable and are forecast to be so for the period of travel. Ice strengthening category Ice3 (LU3) ships are not permitted to sail in the eastern region of the Northern Sea Route.
Transport vessels designated ice strengthening category Ice3 (LU3) and Ice2 (LU2) in service and assigned to Arctic ports at the time the requirements were published may be permitted in exceptional cases during the summer navigation period only, provided that the sailing conditions within the coastal polynya Arctic seas are favourable, taking into account the technical condition of the vessel and the ice conditions at the time.
Inland vessels going out to sea may be granted access to Northern Sea Route waters in the regions and at the times designated by domestic legislation. The ice conditions in these regions must not exceed those set out in the requirements of the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping for this class of ship in terms of severity.
Inland and mixed navigation vessels may be admitted into Northern Sea Route waters during the summer navigation period for one-time crossings only. The Administration determines whether such a vessel should be admitted into Northern Sea Route waters and the conditions for doing so on a case-by-case basis, taking into account: the actual ice conditions on the waters; the ice-class of the ship (its ice breaking category); and the state of the ship's hull, mechanisms and systems. In addition, the ship owner must provide a list of measures taken to ensure the safety of the ship and measures taken to prevent pollution of the marine environment.
Arctic waters north of the Northern Sea Route and outside the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation may be serviced by foreign icebreakers providing passage for non-Russian ships.
Recently, the Russian authorities have taken a number of steps to improve the infrastructure of the Northern Sea Route and make it more attractive for foreign ship owners. This primarily concerns navigation services along the route, including satellite communications and vessel detection systems and electronic navigation charts.
In addition to the Rules of Navigation in the Water Area of the Northern Sea Route, other measures are being to increase international navigation along the Northern Sea Route, including the preparation and distribution of numerous navigational aids, charts and other necessary documents. Every year, the Government of the Russian Federation releases a list of Arctic ports and points that are open to foreign vessels.
Increased efforts to expand international use of the Northern Sea Route are part of a general strategy to stabilize the growth of the Russian economy.
The legal, political and institutional changes taking place in Russia and the relative demilitarization of the Arctic create a favourable environment for international economic cooperation in the Northern Sea Route zone.
As the Suez and Panama canals have reached almost full capacity, and the intercontinental ocean passages may be blocked by terrorists, the Northern Sea Route is becoming a priority in terms of international transport links. This is why it is necessary to create a system of safe navigation in the Arctic and build a corresponding fleet, as well as an icebreaker fleet capable of ensuring safe passage.
Nuclear-powered icebreakers do not give off emissions and work for up to five years without the need to refuel. Given the obvious benefits to the environment of this technology, Russia has the right to use it as an example for all countries seeking to develop shipping in the Arctic, as well as to raise the issue of confirming the legal status of the benefits of a nuclear fleet as a means of environmental safety in the polar regions to the international level. This approach would help Russia consolidate its sovereignty in the Arctic.
In terms of the negative trends, the backlog in the development of legislative and normative bases for the Northern Sea Route and the use of a state nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet to ensure shipping in the Arctic poses a threat to Russia's national interests in the region. Given the increasing international competition for Arctic shelf resources, thus could lead to Russia losing its dominant positions in terms of its exclusive use of the economic zone and the Northern Sea Route.
In this regard the Government of the Russian Federation must:
– provide rigid control over the activities of interested ministries and agencies when adopting and improving the legal and regulatory base for the use of the Northern Sea Route;
– provide for the development and adoption of legislation that lay down the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation in the Northern Sea Route in accordance with Article 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea dated December 10, 1982;
– finalize the legal and regulatory framework for the use of a state nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet to ensure the functioning of the Arctic's marine transport system (the Northern Sea Route) and preserve and protect Russian interests in the Arctic.
These objectives are set out in the document entitled "The Foundations of the Russian Federation's State Policy in the Arctic until 2020 and Beyond
", approved by the President of the Russian Federation on September 18, 2008. The document contains a complete list of measures to strengthen Russia's sovereignty over the Northern Sea Route, make use of the route for international shipping under Russian jurisdiction, and include the resources of the Arctic zone in the development of the country's economy. Experience has shown that a state nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet will play a significant crucial role in carrying out these tasks. Back