New Arctic shipping regulations to increase traffic on the Northern Sea Route

New Arctic shipping regulations to increase traffic on the Northern Sea Route Photo: Hanko

The Russian Ministry of Transport is softening shipping regulations in Arctic waters to ''provide access of ships to parts of the Northern Sea Route with light ice conditions''. The route plays an important role in the Kremlin's ambitious plans for Arctic development: it should become a global transport artery by 2024.

Russia slackens ice-class demands for Arctic shipping, says The Barents Observer, adding that shipping along the Russian Arctic coast is booming. The revised rules, which envisage the introduction of new zones with lower ice-class requirements, will come into force in May 2019.

According to the Ministry of Transport, ''it is necessary to specify criteria for the ships' access to the waters of the Northern Sea Route and add several areas to the currently existing seven areas''. This will enable the regulators to create regions with homogenous ice conditions and provide access to parts of the Northern Sea Route with light ice conditions.

Russia is working on the development of Arctic shipping in order to turn the Northern Sea Route into a competitive transport artery. Last year, about ten million tonnes of cargo was shipped via the route, and almost the same volume was already shipped in the first eight months of 2018, which is an 81% increase compared to the previous year. Russia aims to ship as much as 80 million tonnes to and from its Arctic ports by 2024. Liquefied natural gas and coal are expected to make up a substantial part of overall shipping volume. ''The Northern Sea Route will be the key to the development of the Russian Arctic and the regions of the Far East,'' said President Vladimir Putin in March 2018.

The ice coverage of the Northern Sea Route shrunk to about 200,000 square kilometres in 1998-2005. Photo: Patrick Kelley

Over the last years, global warming has significantly affected ice conditions in the area, as water and air temperatures have increased. Russia's state agency on meteorology and environmental monitoring stated in its latest climate report that average temperatures in parts of the region like the Kara Sea had added up to 5°C since 1998. In March 2017, the temperatures in the Kara Sea and the Chukchi Sea were up to 13°C higher than average, according to the report. The agency estimated that the ice coverage of the Northern Sea Route shrunk to about 200,000 square kilometres in 1998-2005. It is a 7-fold decrease compared to previous years. At the same time, the ice coverage on the shipping route has remained more or less the same since 2005.

By Anna Litvina