Nuclear-powered container ship Sevmorput. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Putin instructs more fish freight via Northern Sea Route

"Okay, let’s work it out," the Russian President said after discussing how to transport more seafood from the Far East with the help of Rosatom’s nuclear-powered container carrier.
May 21, 2020

It was in a meeting on agriculture and food industry, chaired by Putin via a video link from outside Moscow, the question on how to boost deliveries of fish from the Far East to the European part of Russia came up.

One-third of all-Russian catch are from Kamchatka and deliveries to the markets in the most populated parts of Russia, nine-time zones to the west, are challenging for the Russian railways that lack refrigerated carriers.

The acting governor of the Kamchatka Territory, Vladimir Solodov, said his region’s fish enterprises ship seafood to Vladivostok for further deliveries to Moscow, but the serious shortage of transport capacity delays the transport and makes it more expensive. Especially during peak season from July to September when most of the salmon are caught.

“In our opinion, the solution could be to more actively using the Northern Sea Route to deliver fish to the central regions of Russia,” acting governor Solodov said according to the transcripts from the video-linked meeting.

He estimates that some 50-60 thousand tons of Pacific salmon could be shipped along the Northern Sea Route. In the longer run, the amount could be brought up to 250-300 thousand tons.

The words of the governor were music for Vladimir Putin’s ears. The Russian President has made it a national priority to reach at least 80 million tons of annual goods via the Northern Sea Route already by the year 2024. Last year, 31,5 million tons were shipped on the route.

Two times faster 

Sailing fish directly from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky via the Arctic and around Scandinavia to St. Petersburg is two times faster than sailing it to Vladivostok for reloading to the Trans-Siberian railway, governor Solodov informed.

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Present at the meeting was also Rosatom director Alexei Likhachev. Rosatom is both in charge of infrastructure development along the Northern Sea Route and the operation of the world’s only nuclear-powered civilian cargo vessel, the «Sevmorput» (Russian for Northern Sea Route).

“We absolutely support what [governor] Vladimir Viktorovich Solodov said,” Rosatom’s director told.

Likhachev said to the President that he could solve the challenge with the capacities of the «Sevmorput» carrier.

“We are ready to do two or three, up to four voyages a year,” he said.

Then the Rosatom director informed about last year’s test-voyage with seafood cargo to St. Petersburg.

“We understand the economics of this work.” 

What Likhachev didn’t say was that last year’s second voyage with seafood with «Sevmorput» from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to St. Petersburg was canceled because it turned out to be less profitable than expected.

 

From Kamchatka, the “Sevmorput” will sail take the short-cut via the Arctic en route to St. Petersburg. Map: Barents Observer / Google Earth

Unprofitable last year 

Asked by the about the cancellation, Rosatom wrote in an email to the Barents Observer:

“According to their information, this was due to a decline in export demand from ports in Eastern Europe in July-August 2019 and the resulting substantial freight rate reduction from St. Petersburg to ports in Asia.”

Freight rate was down 20% for these routes, Rosatom informed and underlined that the business model of sailing «Sevmorput» was based on bringing return-cargo on the eastbound voyage.

“Based on the test voyage results, fishing businesses in the Far East reiterated their interest and cost efficiency of fish transports along the Northern Sea Route,” Rosatom explained.

The September voyage last year was the first time a civilian nuclear-powered ship sailed with cargo along the coast of Scandinavia to St. Petersburg.

Explaining how to make the voyages with seafood more profitable, Rosatom director Alexey Likhachev said it would be necessary to schedule more ships for the caravans sailing together with «Sevmorput» during the summer months along the Northern Sea Route.

Russia charges a fee for all commercial vessels sailing the Northern Sea Route.

Vladimir Putin ended the discussion by saying: “Okay, let’s work it out. I will include this in the list of instructions based on the results of our discussions today.”

30-years old 

«Sevmorput» is 30-years old and is powered by one reactor of the KLT-40 type, similar to the reactor onboard the icebreakers «Taymyr» and «Vaygach».

After a 2015 upgrade and safety evaluation, the reactor’s service life was prolonged with 150,000 hours aimed at keeping «Sevmorput» in operation until 2024.

 


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