Joint icebreaker and transport fleet for the Northern Sea Route
Vyacheslav Ruksha, Deputy Director General – Director for the Northern Sea Route Directorate, Rosatom, gave the interview to PortNews following the results of the XI forum “Arctic: Present and Future”. The talk was about feasibility of changing the rules for shipping along the NSR against the background of the vessels adrift and the creation of the Arctic fleet with the involvement of icebreakers of Rosmorport.
— In November, in the eastern part of the NSR, more than 20 vessels have got stuck in ice delivering cargoes to Pevek because of the heavy ice conditions. What was the cause of such forced drift of the vessels on the Northern Sea Route?
— A number of reasons effected on the situation. Firstly, several projects in Chukotka have entered an active stage of implementation: the Kekura gold deposit (the operator is Highland Gold Mining of Evgeniy Shvidler, Roman Abramovich and partners – ed. note), Baimskiy Mining and Processing Plant (copper-gold project of Kazakhstan’s KAZ Minerals – ed. note), also the construction of infrastructure for floating power units, power lines and others. By the end of the year, the projects had a request for the delivery of about 200 thousand tons of cargo. At the same time, the navigation period on this section of the NSR lasts only 3 months (August-October – ed. note), but the voyage from Arkhangelsk to Pevek takes about 7-8 days and the same time back. So you may consider how many voyages you can make and how many vessels you need for this.
Besides that, another reason – the requests for cargo were issued at the end of the navigation period. From a business point of view, this is understandable, because transport companies have a standard procedure, only by August they have a signed contract, and in another month or a month and a half – cargo. This year, all vessels that stuck in the ice decided to deliver more than 100 thousand freight tons of cargo at the same time – at the end of October.
Thirdly, in accordance with the forecast of Roshydromet, the type of ice conditions was stated as “light” by the end of November along the entire NSR. The class of ships (Arc4 – ed. note) allowed them to make the voyage without icebreaker escort, but from 2 to 6 November they stopped abruptly due to real difficult ice conditions and required icebreaker assistance. The similar situation has developed both in Arkhangelsk and Pevek.
By the middle of November, the assistance in the eastern part of the NSR could be provided by the nuclear icebreaker Vaygach, Taimyr, which were operating in the Kara Sea at that moment, and Yamal. First of all, the task was to lead out the vessels with a carrying capacity of more than 100 thousand tons, and Yamal did it in 3 days. Vaygach started escorting ships on November 16. Now the ice is still light – up to 30-40 cm, and the wind is not strong and the channel does not freeze so quickly, this allows navigation in convoy. Thus, Vaygach led 8 vessels in convoy, returning from time to time for the stuck vessels. In a few days (the escort was completed on December 7 – ed. note), all ships will be in “clear water” at the western edge of the Kara Sea ice.
It is clear that Arc4 vessels in November do not move along the Northern Sea Route without icebreaker assistance. And the navigation rules (the rules of navigation in the water area of the Northern Sea Route are approved by the decree of the government of the Russian Federation – ed. note) allow them to enter the waters without an icebreaker in favorable weather. This raises the question: either the class of ships is insufficient, or the weather forecasts are unreliable.
— Does it make sense now to amend the rules of navigation in the water area of the Northern Sea Route?
— Yes. Even in 2018, when this norm was introduced into the Navigation Rules, I was sure that general permissions for navigation in the Arctic should be issued by the end of October, and from November 1, the second individual confirmation was required upon the prior request of the shipowner. The permit will depend on the number of icebreakers available. If there is one icebreaker and 24 transport vessels for the entire water area, and the journey from Pevek to the western part of the NSR takes 8 days, then it is unacceptable to issue an unlimited number of permissions. Then, shipowners respond that the Directorate limits their market opportunities. However, a notice of a “light” type of ice conditions was posted before the end of November, and the situation that has arisen this year may repeat next year, if the approach is not changed. A shipowner wants to run via the NSR without paying for the obligatory icebreaker assistance: he sees that officially, on the website of the NSR Administration, there is a notice for the “light” type, and he goes on Arc4 vessels to the Arctic in November!
– Will the Directorate of the Northern Sea Route initiate a revision of the rules?
— Certainly. Now there is already a government assignment on this matter. Based on the experience of this year, it is necessary to study more closely all the technical requirements of the Navigation Rules. We must take a cold survey of the situation together with the Ministry of Transport and the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping. In fact, in that ice situation, which was observed in November, vessels of Arc4 ice class cannot go to the NSR without icebreaker escort. Moreover, there were vessels both of Russian and foreign registers among those in drift. We have truly international shipping, that’s why I have always insisted that state control in this industry should be in the hands of the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation, which acts as a single body and takes into account the requirements of all world memorandums. I believe that it is important to reflect in the Rules of Navigation that icebreakers come to the fore in the Arctic. When you go to the village and turn off the highway, do you understand that you may need a tractor?
— What amendments are being discussed?
— It is necessary to change the methodology of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) for determining the type of ice conditions. The length of the Northern Sea Route from the Kara Gate to the Bering Strait is about 5500 km, while the ice conditions in the Kara Sea are the one thing, and in the Chukchi Sea – completely different. The current methodology is based on 2015 data.
The next stage of changes is to check the compliance of the vessel’s technical passport with real capabilities. For example, Yurii Arshenevskiy, the general cargo vessel of Arc7 ice class could not complete the voyage on its own, but Sevmorput, the nuclear container vessel of the same Arc7 ice class entered the route and 8 days later easily left, using the recommendations of the Headquarters of Marine Operations of Atomflot. It is necessary to assess how classes Arc 4 and Arc 5, as well as Ice1 and Ice3, are legal for navigation in the Arctic at this time of the year, and determine what classes can pass a certain type of ice.
In addition, it is required to monitor the development of ice formation on the NSR: the situation in the western region at the beginning of the voyage may be completely different from the eastern region by the end of the 8th day of the voyage. It can be assumed, for example, that with 1 free icebreaker, 10 vessels can go on a voyage, with 2 icebreakers – 20. It turns out that in November, 1 icebreaker should be in the western part and 1 in the eastern part of the NSR, and perhaps a third will be required. Therefore, it is obvious that the Directorate of the Northern Sea Route should replenish the fleet with at least 2 icebreakers. Among currently available now are the diesel icebreakers, that operated by the Ministry of Transport represented by Rosmorport.
The Directorate closes permanent long-term contracts for ice escort in early July, and by December 1, all nuclear icebreakers should be ready again. It follows that the maintenance and technological cycle of all 4 icebreakers at the conditions of one dock is 4 months, we do not consider the icebreaker Arktika yet, it is new. This is a tight schedule, so the transition period – if we want to save November for transit navigation – needs to be reinforced with Rosmorport diesel icebreakers Kapitan Dranitsyn, Krasin and Admiral Makarov, which are now actively used only in February. They are capable of providing icebreaker assistance on the NSR in November and the first half of December, which will allow to close the beginning and the end of summer-autumn navigation while nuclear icebreakers are leaving for repair. In this form, it would be a joint icebreaker and transport fleet of the Northern Sea Route.
– In what legal form can there be such cooperation between diesel and nuclear icebreakers in the Arctic?
— I was and still am of the opinion that these Arctic icebreakers “Krasin” and “Admiral Makarov” should be on the balance sheet of Atomflot.