The shortest route between the Far East and the European part of Russia. The national transport communication of our country in the Arctic. This all is about the Northern Sea Route. In the 18th century, the most outstanding Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov foresaw: «The Northern Ocean is a vast field where Russian glory can worsen». And he was right.
Today, the Northern Sea Route serves the Arctic ports and Siberia’s major rivers. The path length from the Kara Gate to Providence Bay is about 5 600 km. The distance from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok along the NSR is about 14 thousand km. For comparison, this route will be longer along the Suez Canal — over 23 000 km.
Of course, the NSR has alternatives: transport arteries passing through the Panama Canal and the previously mentioned Suez Canal. However, if the distance to the Japanese port of Yokohama from Murmansk is about 12 840 nautical miles, then according to the NSR — only 5 770 nautical miles. For many Arctic regions, the NSR has become virtually the only means of supplying food and goods. After all, it unites the central transport systems and northern ports into one corridor.
The genuine brave souls come here to work: in winter, the temperature on the central part of the NSR drops to minus 33 degrees. During summer, the air warms up no higher than plus seven degrees. Icebergs and ice sheets can be found along the entire length of the route.
The potential of the NSR consists of several factors at once. Firstly, it is high security and the absence of piracy. In the waters of the same Suez Canal, attacks and seizures of ships by pirates are a regular phenomenon. It is noted that piracy annually causes global economic damage of $ 40 billion. The Southern Sea Corridor is particularly suffering.
Another advantage of the Northern Sea Route is significant time-savings on cargo transportation: cargo delivery is reduced from about 22 days to 14-15. In addition, along with the reduction of transportation time, the amount of fuel consumed also decreases. This is one of the crucial factors for the environment.
Thus, by 2050, the International Maritime Organization has obliged sea carriers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50%. But it will take a lot of work to achieve this indicator. Firstly, marine transport produces about 11% of CO2 from all transportation. Secondly, now there is a no good and efficient technology that could replace the engines of ships. They are known to run on fossil fuels. Due to its shorter length, the NSR reduces the carbon footprint of maritime transport and contributes to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Another advantage of the NSR is high safety and significantly lower risks of cargo loss. There are practically no storms in the sea expanses of the NSR all year round: the ice cover restrains water fluctuations.
The development of the Northern Sea Route is significant for the Russian economy. In addition, this transport artery can become a link between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Rosatom State Nuclear Corporation organizes vessels’ navigation in the route’s water area, manages a fleet of nuclear icebreakers, and provides navigation and hydrographic support for navigation. To develop the infrastructure of seaports in the waters of the NSR, the Directorate of the Northern Sea Route was created. It manages several subordinate organizations: «Atomflot» («Rosatomflot»), «Hydrographic Enterprise», and «Chukotatomenergo».
«Atomflot» consists of six nuclear icebreakers: «Yamal», «50 Years of Victory», «Taimyr», «Vaigach», «Arctic» and «Siberia». Meanwhile, the construction of three more nuclear icebreakers continues in St. Petersburg: «Ural», «Yakutia» and «Chukotka». Interestingly, these icebreakers will be universal: they can change the draft depending on the depth. This will allow work to be carried out at sea and in the mouths of Siberian rivers.
The most powerful icebreaker in the world, the «Rossiya», is also under construction.
In 2021, the volume of cargo transportation along the Northern Sea Route increased to 43.85 million tons. This is several times more than the indicator of the Soviet Union. In 1987, the volume of cargo transportation amounted to 6.5 million tons. It is noted that oil and gas investment projects, which are successfully implemented in Russia, helped to set a record. The NSR has become in demand among foreign carriers. In just 11 months of 2021, 75 foreign vessels have passed along the route. In 2020, the NSR accepted only 42 “foreigners”. According to statistics, the transit cargo flow exceeded 2 million tons. This is 59% higher than in 2020.