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Tech Wisdom: Northern Sea Route Promise

Northern Sea route (NSR) transit is attractive because it offers fast routes between ports in North East Asia and Europe compared to Suez Canal passage, but international cargo transits are few, according to a recently published paper.

A paper exploring cargo traffic potential on the route was recently published by Arild Moe, a Senior Research Fellow with the Norwegian independent maritime research foundation the Fridtjof Nansen Institute.

Sailings from Yokohama, Japan to Hamburg, Germany could potentially be reduced by a week depending upon vessel speed, he writes.

But while 19 ports exist along the route, there are only two fully fledged, advanced ports along the Northern Sea Route, Sabetta Port and Dudinka Port.

In the route’s busiest year so far, 2013, there were only 15 full international transits.

Such transits have so far been dominated by bulk vessels, tankers, reefer ships, and general cargo vessels, with many transits aimed at ballast and repositioning, and container shipping operators are less inclined to brave the ice, Moe explains:

“Even if transit on the NSR remains attractive for shipping operators moving some cargoes to some destinations, it is also clear that the route has limitations: a short sailing season due to heavy ice for at least half the year; draft and thus ship size limitations, if vessels have to pass through certain straits; higher construction costs of ice class ships; unpredictable ice situation, even if there sometimes is no ice along the NSR in the summer season, ice may occur and delay transits; uncertainty of future escort fees. Many of these limitations are particularly challenging for container traffic, less so for bulk.”

Schemes to overcome the sea route’s limitations are being discussed, notably the creation of a container shuttle through the Arctic with purpose-built ice class vessels and reloading at both ends.

As such, the route’s potential for both bulk and container cargo largely is unexplored and will depend on future investment projects connecting Russia’s coasts with its interior.

Read the entire PTI technical paper: Shipping on the Northern Sea Route

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