Arktika Nuclear Powered Icebreaker Clears Northern Sea Passage Route

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Successful sea trials have huge cost and time saving implications for EU-China Shipping  

Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

The Arktika nuclear-powered icebreaker, which entered service on October 21, escorted the first vessel along the Northern Sea Passage, the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet operator, Atomflot, confirmed this week.

Atomflot stated “On November 24, the Arktika nuclear-powered icebreaker escorted the Siyaniye Severa dry cargo ship in the Sabetta port. It was the first task in high-latitude areas. On November 24, at the entrance to Ob Bay, the icebreaker began escorting the Siyaniye Severa. The caravan’s average speed was 10-12 knots.”

The icebreaker left Murmansk on November 14, and on November 16 was in Kola Bay, before leaving for the Northern Sea Route to escort vessels there.

Atomflot’s Deputy Director General Leonid Irlitsa stated “The Arktika icebreaker’s voyage to Ob Bay has shown the icebreaker’s efficiency at sea. Now the crew can assess the icebreaker’s potential and get used to the vessel.”

View from the Arktika with the Siyaniye Severa cargo ship behind

Arktika’s sea trials around the Arctic are a harbinger of things to come. With global warming a reality, the Northern Sea Passage offers a faster and more economical route for goods transportation between Europe and Asia. A vessel heading for Europe from Shanghai could cut several thousand kilometres off the southern route by using the Arctic waterway instead, which would represent a huge cost-saving.

Ports, airports and rail are all being developed throughout the Russian Arctic to provide logistical support and development of the Northern Sea Passage, including the laying of submarine cables to provide high-speed digital connectivity. The entire Russian Arctic area has been declared a Free Trade Zone, with Murmansk as the Arctic capital.

The Arktika icebreaker will return to Murmansk in mid-December and after replenishing its supplies it will sail back to the Northern Sea Route. Arktika is the first of three LK-60 icebreakers, which are dual-draught (8.55 or 10.5m) wide-beam (34m) ships of 25,450 dwt or 33,540 dwt with ballast, able to handle 3m of ice. They each have two RITM-200 reactors of 175 MWt each, delivering 60 MWe at the propellers via twin turbine-generators and three motors. Arktika’s sister ships Sibir and Ural are expected to enter operation in 2021 and 2022.

The Arktika Icebreaker news comes as the Zvezda shipyards have begun constructing the first of 15 ice-breaking liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers of Arc7 class for the Arctic LNG 2 project, Russian oil company Rosneft stated last week.

“The Zvezda shipbuilding complex has begun cutting steel for the lead vessel of a new series: the Arc 7 ice-class LNG carrier tanker. The first component was cut on a high-tech plasma machine in the presence of representatives of the shipyard, the customer and the Russian Maritime Shipping Register.” the company said.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov stated “Gas carriers are among the most technologically complex innovative vessels to be built, while ice-class gas carriers are extremely rare. The beginning of their construction in Russia is a significant milestone for the domestic shipbuilding industry.”

Arc7 ice-class LNG carriers are designed for the year-round transportation of LNG in the difficult conditions of the ice-bound Arctic sea basin. These tankers are capable of breaking an ice bulk of up to 2 meters thick (6.5 feet). Since Arc7 tankers use liquefied natural gas as fuel, they are considered to provide advanced environmental safety. China is a major buyer of Arctic LNG from Russia while India is also interested in building such vessels as well as being an LNG client state.

Estimates suggest that the Northern Sea Passage will be shipping 80 million tonnes by 2024 and that the Arctic region will be generating about US$500 billion per annum by 2030.

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