Shipping trends on the Northern Sea Route

A new study done by CHNL shows rapidly increasing shipping activity on the route, and underlines that the international traffic is dominated by European companies.

  • By CHNL

Only a handful of studies have assessed recent ship traffic on the NSR, most of them lacking information on the total activity. Now a new study done by associate professor and senior researcher, Bjorn Gunnarsson, at CHNL analyses the activity on the Northern Sea Route between 2016 to 2019.

Read the full article here.

The study shows that a total of 8329 separate voyages took place on the NSR from the year of 2016 to 2019. The number of voyages increased by 58 percent. The research shows that the increase was due to both internal traffic on the route, but also an increase in destination shipping between SW Kara Sea and European ports. During the four years the cargo volume on the NSR increased from 7.5 million tons to 31.5 million the last year. Most of the cargo was for export to the European market. Despite rapidly increasing shipping activity, year-round shipping only takes place in the westernmost part of the NSR.

Few Asian shipping companies on the NSR

Despite the frequent media reports depicting a large Asian shipping influence on the NSR the research proves otherwise. Compared to European companies, there are fewer Asian shipping companies working on the NSR. It is significantly several more voyages taking place between the NSR and European ports compared to ports in the Asian Pacific region.

The study shows that Russian domestic shipping dominates the activity on the NSR in terms of companies, vessels and voyages. Russian operated shipping companies were 62-73% of all shipping companies working on the NSR, and 66-83% of all vessels were Russian, and 75-87% of the voyages were done by Russians.

European companies were also participants in domestic shipping on the route with 23 companies working each year. Most of these were between Murmansk and Sabetta, and locations offshore in the Kara Sea and in the Ob Bay.

Analysis of future development

The analysis presented in the study shows that temporary ship-to-ship transshipment of LNG to European destinations will be relocated from Honningsvåg in Norway, to a site near Kildin Island in Russia. These logistical changes will reduce future numbers of voyages in the destination shipping category, as well as increase the number of voyages registered as domestic voyages on the NSR.

Currently, destination shipping involves direct transport of LNG from the Yamal LNG plant at Sabetta to Europe and NE Asia. This transportation scheme will permanently change as soon as Novatek has constructed its scheduled transshipment and storage facilities for LNG on both the Kola Peninsula in the western part of Russia, and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east. Destination shipping will likely play less of a role in future transportation of LNG modules and project cargo from outside Russia to locations within the NSR, as Russias own manufacturing facilities and yards take over. This development is likely to take several years, so in the meantime Russia will still be dependent on foreign shipping companies for heavy project cargo deliveries and foreign yards for module construction.

Over the next several years domestic shipping will bring large quantities of Russian Arctic oil, LNG, coal, metals, ore, grain and other natural resources on high ice-class cargo vessels from remote locations along the NSR to larger Russian hubs. From there the commodities will be exported on conventional vessels to foreign markets.

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