Despite all the climate warming announcements, the beginning of this winter already demonstrates unpredictability and severity of the Arctic nature. Without proceeding with the programme on construction of icebreakers it will be impossible to ensure year-round navigation on the Northern Sea Route thus threatening the implementation of investment projects in the region. Another crucial task is large-scale dredging.
The situation with dozens of ships stuck on the Northern Sea Route has shown that the reports of the Arctic ice disappearance had been “greatly exaggerated”. 24 ships were waiting icebreaker assistance in November. Globally, it suggests that the number of icebreakers already available and under construction is not enough for a stable and regular navigation in the Arctic the round year.
It should be noted that year-round navigation on the Northern Sea Route is to be organized in 2025-2030.
“In my opinion, the tasks set for 2030 cannot be implemented without the construction of two more icebreakers of Project 22220 (LK-60 - Ed.). Otherwise, we will have a limited period of navigation: it will be roughly extended from the current eight months to nine or, perhaps, ten months but there will be no stable year-round navigation...”, Vyacheslav Ruksha, Deputy General Director of Rosatom - Director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate, said at the 11th International Forum “Arctic: Today and the Future” held in Saint-Petersburg.
Vyacheslav Ruksha also emphasized that good commercial speed should be ensured on the Arctic routes. Navigation through two-meter thick ice at a speed of 10-12 knots will be possible with involvement of the 120 MW icebreaker of Leader-class. The icebreaker named Rossija is to be completed in 2027.
According to the speaker, State Corporation “Rosatom” is also ready to invest in construction of icebreakers running on liquefied natural gas (LNG) for operation in the Gulf of Ob and in the Yenisey Bay. Vyacheslav Ruksha says LNG-powered icebreakers for the Arctic can be built with involvement of foreign contractors. “If we fail to start quickly and efficiently ... we will look into having them built in the foreign market with an eye on further establishment of local production”, said Vyacheslav Ruksha. It was earlier announced that four icebreakers of this kind should be built.
Icebreaker Taimyr will reach the end of its service life by 2027, the Vaigach and the Yamal icebreakers – by 2028-29 (Yamal service life extension is under consideration), 50 Let Pobedy – by 2040.
The Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic supports the idea of building new icebreakers. “Cargo traffic on the Northern Sea Route has surged more than 6-fold over a period of six years, the interest to the Northern Sea Route has played a trick o shippers... The weather service had forecasted a good weather... Basing on easy ice situation forecast shippers did not take care of icebreaker assistance. An Operation Headquarters was established and a schedule was developed ... The icebreakers, Arktika (LK-60 - Ed.) which has left this week 50 Let Pobedy we are expecting as well as Sevmorput (nuclear-powered containership – Ed.) will take all the cargoes and fulfill all the obligations. However, enhancement of icebreaker assistance level and construction of new icebreakers will make the Northern Sea Route safer and more comfortable”, Aleksey Chekunkov, Minister for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, said at the XI International Forum Arctic: Today and the Future.
What cargo base is in the focus of these icebreakers? By 2024, annual cargo traffic on the Northern Sea Route is to achieve 81.4 million tonnes including 35.5 million tonnes of LNG, 36.7 million tonnes of oil, 3.5 million tonnes of coal, 1.7 million tonnes of metal and 4 million tonnes of coastal and transit cargo. With the launching of year-round navigation, Rosatom expects the Northern Sea Route to carry 150 million tonnes of cargo per year. A competitive multimodal transport corridor for about 250 million tonnes per year is to be launched in 2031-2035.
The scope of tasks implies large-scale dredging and hydrographic works which is the responsibility of Rosatom’s Hydrographic Company.
As Aleksandr Bengert, General Director of Hydrographic Company (part of Rosatom) told journalists at the 11th International Forum “Arctic: Today and the Future”, the scope of annual repair dredging in the Gulf of Ob is estimated at 5 million cbm from 2023. “Basing on a deep analysis conducted by the Admiral Makarov University upon our request and involving by far the majority of dredging companies ... we have optimized the figures... nevertheless, the scope of 5 million cbm makes half of that in the remaining seaports of Russia. That is a real challenge and we are ready to award long-term contracts in the market of repair dredging... Our attention to that issue is great”, said the head of Hydrographic Company.
Taking into account he challenges, FSUE Hydrographic Company is going to establish a Center of Engineering and Technical Expertise. The activities of the Center will be focused on the current tasks of Hydrographic Company, such as hydrography, organization of construction works and construction supervision. “As it develops we are going to apply and demonstrate the best practices thus enhancing the efficiency of construction in the Arctic”, said Aleksandr Bengert.
Hydrographic Company is to present the Center of Engineering and Technical Expertise in January 2022. The company has signed agreements with its partners.
So, the development of the Arctic fields come at a price. The question is if it’s worth it. Judge for yourself: according to Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources, the reserves in the Arctic zone include 2.7 billion tonnes of gas condensate, 55 tillion cbm of natural gas and 7.3 billion tonnes of oil. And here comes the issue of transition to alternative sources of energy … However, that is a separate topic.