– What is the role of the government in the development of the Northern Sea Route?
– The state acts as the main driver in the project. It operates through appropriate tax incentives, direct support of infrastructure development. A typical example is the creation of a sea canal in the Ob Bay, that was funded by the federal budget. The channel allowed LNG carriers of “Yamalmax” class to pass to the port of Sabetta safely. As a result, the project “Yamal LNG”, where Novatek is the main shareholder, is working successfully. I always say kind words to Leonid Mikhelson. Few people know that the construction of our new nuclear ships was linked, synchronized with the government’s order to develop the production of liquefied gas on the Yamal Peninsula.
In the spring of 2000, when I was working as General Director of the Murmansk Shipping Company, Vladimir Putin, our president, visited Murmansk. I had the honor to organize his meeting on the nuclear icebreaker “Rossiya”, which has already been taken out of service today. Only 20 years have passed, and you see how everything is developing dynamically? The most powerful icebreaker “Rossiya” of the “Leader” class is being built at “Zvezda” shipyard, and cargo transportation along the Northern Sea Route in 2020 reached almost 33 million tons. The interesting fact is that transit volume has grown to almost 1.3 million tons, and, basically, this is real international transportation.
There are a lot of plans. We expect to complete at least that part, which is determined by the federal project “Development of the Northern Sea Route” and the instructions of the Prime Minister, that he gave in Murmansk after the commissioning of the lead nuclear icebreaker “Arktika”. We are talking with you in St. Petersburg, while “Christophe de Margerie” LNG carrier and the nuclear icebreaker “50 let Pobedy” are at this time in the East Siberian Sea. For the first time in history, a vessel with a deadweight of 100 thousand tons is sailing in the eastern sector of the Arctic in February …
– He was there in January as well…
– And in January too. You, Korabel.ru, are well aware that the ice situation in the Arctic is getting worse every winter month, but few people know that the most difficult situation is in May, when the frosts are still strong, the ice continues to grow, due to various wind effects, the most powerful hummocking occurs etc. Hopefully, under the big banner of Novatek, in May this year we will carry out the very early voyages of “Yamalmax”. It is difficult to say today what ships will go on the voyage, but this is an extremely important matter. Without such voyages, we cannot get at least a preliminary understanding of both the forces and the arrangement of icebreakers, and determine the tasks for everyone at the next stage – regular year-round navigation along the entire Northern Sea Route or, as we briefly say, the eastern route. Now this issue is being considered by the government.
– The task of the January voyages of “Christophe de Margerie”, “Nikolay Evgenov” and “Nikolay Zubov” is to understand what modern Arc7 class tankers are capable of?
– Exactly. What are they capable of, and how much icebreaking forces will be required. When I worked at Atomflot, and we were just starting to think about year-round navigation, we believed that constant icebreaking support would be needed almost along the entire route of the NSR. It turned out that almost six powerful Arctic icebreakers would be required for daily support. I put them on the map myself. The first test voyages you mentioned showed that the vessels of “Yamalmax” class have good ice capabilities. And today we believe that regular year-round navigation can be started with three icebreakers, not six. Now we are concerned with another question: to build them on time. And this is the most important question.
– “Nikolay Zubov” went along the eastern route in ballast – is this a further development of your idea for the summer escorting of bulk carriers in ballast?”
– It’s not an idea anymore – it’s the thing we are doing. Back in 2009, we began to work out plans to develop transit during summer-autumn navigation. A lot of iron ore concentrate and other dry cargoes go from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, primarily in the direction of China. And many of these ships, when they are in ballast and their draft becomes less, do not go through the Suez Canal, but around Africa. Such 220, 250 thousand ton of DWT vessels. By the way, the deadweight of “Suezmax” vessel is only about 160 thousand tons. And such giants for 200 tons could improve their economy in the summer, returning to the cargo base along a short way, along the Northern Sea Route. Past summer it has already begun to be fulfilled in some way.
Large-capacity vessels, starting with the Arc4 class, that operate a lot today in the Baltic Sea, could definitely improve their economy by working with the Northern Sea Route in the summer-autumn period, and to work with the south along standard routes in the winter-spring. Trust in us and our capabilities is important here.
– Is the Arctic transit fleet growing?
– The transit fleet must be clearly devided. One part is summer-autumn navigation, when it is enough for ships to have a low ice class, and their construction does not cost more than ships on the ice-free sea. And such vessels as “Yamalmax” with ice class Arc7, capable of operating in the Arctic seas all year round, today are mainly associated with the development of projects of Novatek and their partners for the production of LNG. I really hope that Rosneft, which also has serious potential, will implement “Vostok Oil” project by 2024. It has already been almost officially announced and should provide a cargo traffic of 30 million tons. This means that new tankers with DWT of 100-120 thousand tons with a good ice class will appear. This will expand the task of icebreaking support for the eastern route.
– You were in favor of building nuclear-powered tankers.
– In the construction of icebreakers, nuclear energy, from my point of view, becomes effective at a power of 30-35 MW. Arctic icebreakers should have a capacity of 40-45, or even like our new one – under 60 MW. Today the merchant fleet is replenished with new 30-40 MW cargo ships and container ships. “Yamalmax” has 45 MW of power, it uses evaporated gas, and this is a different economy.
New tankers can definitely be built nuclear. This is being discussed now. The idea has the right to exist. Let me remind you that there was a great euphoria in many countries after the World War on the use of nuclear energy for the movement of civil ships. Few people know that 5-7 years ago, such work was done at the St. Petersburg State Maritime Technical University. The only thing to be understood is the serious restrictions that exist today in many countries of the world on the entry of nuclear-powered ships into ports. I have always wondered why nuclear submarines calmly navigate the waters of ports, but a cargo ship cannot.
– Is the capacity of the second generation of “Yamalmax” planned to be increased to 51 MW?
– The new “Yamalmax” should be clearly oriented towards the eastern route. We already have experience of two, even three full-scale voyages – the first shipment under the “Yamal LNG” project took place in December 2017, plus test early and late voyages. This is a serious experience. In my personal opinion, ice pools, even as good as those at the Krylov Center or the Finnish “Aker Arctic”, still do not give a complete picture of real life. The Arctic is a powerful hummocking, various other obstacles, compression may be of a different scale there. I think that we cannot imitate compression in pools, therefore, practice remains the criterion of truth. And thanks to Novatek, who is so determined to conduct experimental trips.
– Is the beam of “Yamalmax” supposed to be reduced from 50 to 48 meters?
– As far as I understand, it is about improving icebreaking capability…
– And not about the convenience of working with icebreakers?
– Depending on the economy of the task, it is necessary to clearly define the icebreaker and transport forces. Norilsk Nickel even tried to create transport ships capable of operating without icebreakers. I do not believe in this. First of all, because in this case the commercial attractiveness of such vessels will collapse. “Arctic Express”, in my opinion, is a typical example. With a deadweight of 15 thousand tons and 13 megawatts on the tail, its efficiency as a cargo ship is extremely low.
I think we should now, especially for the eastern route, create an icebreaker transport system and maintain a balance. Vessels should not have a very low ice class, but it is not worth making it super high either. Then it turns out that an icebreaker is still required, and the ship’s cost turned out to be so expensive that no one wants to pay for the escorting. The main problem today is to find a balance between icebreakers’ capacity and the ice characteristics of a cargo ship.
I often remind that the father of the Russian icebreaker fleet is Norilsk Nickel. Icebreakers “Lenin”, “Arktika”, “Sibir” (where I had the honor to work in my youth) were constructed for this company, for the task of a year-round transport system on the Murmansk-Dudinka line. So at the head of this whole project was the phrase – icebreaker transport system.
– What fleet is planned to be built within the framework of the Northern Sea Route development program?
– All ships are built as a technological transport system for the respective project. This includes Gazpromneft with “Arctic Gates” project, where six tankers of Arc7 class have been built. These are 15 Arctic gas carriers within “Yamal LNG” project. It is more difficult to determine the final number of LNG carriers, because Novatek plans to create a transshipment facility in Murmansk and Kamchatka. This will increase the load and complicate the operation of heavy gas carriers in ice conditions, which means that we will have to talk about some other model of their use.
The same applies to the auxiliary fleet. Each port requires tugs. Take, for example, “Yamal LNG”: two such tugs were built for Sabetta, which simply did not exist in the world before. Or the same port icebreaker “Ob”, which built “Vyborg shipyard”. A decision has already been made to build port vessels by Rosmorport for “Arctic LNG-2” project and so on.
– What are the plans for icebreaker “Arktika”?
– So far, no one can say for sure what is the reason for the failure of the stator of the starboard electric propulsion motor. In the summer-autumn season, we plan to change this engine in order to return the icebreaker to work by the winter of 2022. I suppose the plan can be revised in the connection with the appearance of the second icebreaker “Sibir”. The commission of this icebreaker, I think, may also postponed slightly. Therefore, today I would not name the exact dates. But the fact that Atomflot has guarantees, and the capacity of “Arktika” should increase to the designed 60 MW, is absolutely certain. And whether this will happen in 2021 or move to 2022 is difficult to say today. Closer to May, it will become clear.
– The icebreaker fleet is growing, how will its infrastructure change?
– We are creating it in parallel. Atomflot orders a new floating dock for LK-60 class icebreakers. We will no longer be able to operate the icebreaker fleet so actively without it after 2023. A serious issue is the construction of a new support vessel for the nuclear facility “Ritm-200”. This issue has a technical solution, but so far it does not have a financial one. Over the next two years, we will have to fully understand how it can be solved so that the construction of such a vessel begins in 2023.
– Is it possible to develop the Ob-Irtysh infrastructure and transport cargoes from Kazakhstan?
– You know, I am doubtful of the effectiveness of seasonal work. I know one cargo – grain, which, perhaps, makes sense to consider and remember the famous Kara expeditions of the 1920s. Today the entire economy, the entire movement of goods requires year-round navigation and other vessels. Ob-Irtysh, hopefully, 2.5 meters deep, this is a completely different topic. This question, please, is for the river shipping companies.
– And the export of grain?
– This is an issue worthy of a solution. As I understand it, grain production will amount to about 3-5 million tons or even more. The task is very interesting, but also very integrated. We are working on the project, it will be possible to make a seasonal system of grain transportation with transshipment in the Sabetta area or further south. It is often believed that – once came up with an idea and easily implemented it. It’s not that simple. This needs barge-towing trains, a loading line on the Irtysh, Ob Rivers, in those areas where grain is – the Omsk region, Altai Territory … And this is not entirely a question of the Directorate of the Northern Sea Route. We have vessels with drafts under 10 meters.
– We started talking about meters. Where is dredging planned on the Northern Sea Route?
– In brief, we are building the terminal “Utrenniy” for “Arctic LNG-2” project. The volume of investments of more than 100 billion rubles proves its seriousness. Reconstruction of the sea channel in Sabetta, which we are currently engaged in, is a major task. These are also very serious volumes – tens of billions. After the reconstruction of the channel, I hope, it will be possible to export 100, 200, and 300 million tons of products without problems. This powerful channel will easily provide this kind of traffic.
– What can you say about the national dredging corporation?
– We work very seasonally in the water area of the Northern Sea Route, and high-capacity vessels are required. I think there must be some kind of hybrid here, the economy is hardly possible without the world market of services. This complicates the issue. There should be some kind of cooperation with “Rosmorport”, because the company conducts a lot of dredging works in Russia. But I want to emphasize once again that the short navigation season and the amount of work that we have require the most powerful ships, and this is a very expensive pleasure.
– Will people return to the North?
– I know that you can live in Murmansk, but move to the North … I would clearly say that we must protect the culture of indigenous peoples, also through megaprojects. The Arctic needs to be developed on a rotational basis. This is definitely not a place to live. Take the Norilsk model, which has been developed since the 1930s, or Tiksi, Pevek. I don’t think this will happen today. In the North, you need to make good money, develop a transport system for the mobility of labor resources. I will again cite the example of “Yamal LNG” project of Novatek. An international airport has been built in Sabetta, you can fly even from Beijing or New York. To build cities so that in 40 years you do not know what to do with them – it seems to me that this is not very good. Let’s say “Yamal LNG” will be used for another twenty years, and then what?