Development programme in NSR to make Arctic safer

Three icebreakers in the western Arctic Ocean. Credit: LCDR Steve Wheeler

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed the federal government to design a comprehensive development programme aimed to make commercial shipping on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) safer and investment more attractive.

Speaking at a press conference in St Petersburg on 9 April, Putin stated that government agencies were instructed to incorporate all development projects already started in the region into the programme and have till the end of the year to complete the consolidation.

The main point of the new strategy is to create a supporting infrastructure alongside Russia’s northern coast, said Gavril Parakhin, member of the Parliament of the Yakutia Republic.

“It is crucial that the NSR development has new ports, mooring berths, [and] service employees, so that a ship can be repaired in case of an incident,” Parakhin said. This is not just a matter of safety, but also an investment opportunity, by providing maintenance services to the Asian trade ships, Parakhin added.

The overall investments in the NSR infrastructure are set at around RUB735 billion (USD12 billion), commented Alexey Lihachev, programme chief and general director of the Russian state-owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom. The investments are expected to be spent until 2024 on new port infrastructure, sea channels, and ice barriers.

In addition, some investments are set to be allocated to producing new icebreakers. In 2024, Rosatom plans to run five nuclear icebreakers in the Arctic, including Lider, a vessel designed to break through 2 m of thick ice at the speed of 18–20 km per hour. It would ensure that shipping on the NSR would be safe year-round, according to Lihachev.

There are still safety issues in the northern part of the NSR that need to be addressed, said Mikhail Grigoriev, member of the scientific committee of Russia’s Security Council. The impact of the unpredictable climate in the region is a factor, as well as the lack of communication services on the northern part of the NSR. There is also a lack of helicopter pods as well as research-and-rescue bases, Grigoriev said.