Russian icebreakers ‘will change the face of shipping’ on NSR

The Russian icebreaker Yamal, Canadian icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent and the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea rendezvous near the North Pole. USCG

The new generation of Russian nuclear icebreakers under the Lider project will “change the face of shipping on the Northern Sea Route (NSR)”, opening up new, safe routes year-round for global trade, according to the Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who is supervising the project on behalf of the country’s government.

According to Russian state-owned shipbuilder United Shipbuilding Corporation, these vessels will be up to 200 m in length and 50 m wide. They will be capable of travelling at up to 13 kt and escorting ships of more than 100,000 dwt through up to 4.5 m of ice, which is the maximum thickness in the Arctic these days, Rogozin said. The ‘conventional’ icebreakers Russia currently operates are able to break ice up to 2 m thick.

The new vessels would “open up the NSR completely for foreign customers”, including on new routes that were previously considered unreliable due to safety concerns, Rogozin said.

He also revealed that Russia planned to make the three new-generation icebreakers operational between 2023 and 2025, after which the country would be able “to arrange any shipment, of any cargo, in any direction” on the NSR, he said.

In addition to escorting vessels, the Lider icebreakers will be able to perform a range of other tasks in the Arctic, including participating in rescue missions in remote areas, Rogozin claimed.

Alexey Kadilov, general director of Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg, which is hoping to win the state contact to build the Lider icebreakers, said the project would be “a true breakthrough” for the Russian shipping industry. Baltic Shipyard is part of United Shipbuilding Corporation.

Kadilov explained that deploying the icebreakers would boost the trade flow of various goods from Asia to Europe through the NSR and the flow of hydrocarbons from projects on the Russian shelf to Asian customers, including in South Korea, Japan, and China.

Russia has also commissioned a nuclear-powered icebreaker for deployment on the NSR from 2019. It is the only country in the world to build and operate nuclear powered icebreakers and the new 173 m-long, 33,000 tonne Arktika-class vessel will be its fifth in operation.

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