Relevant topics

2018 March 6

Steering the course

Russian President Vladimir Putin has outlined the priorities of transport infrastructure development: increasing the capacity of railway links to the ports of Russia’s South and Far East, boosting cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route, introducing innovations in shipping and shipbuilding, ecology. However, the President did not touch the issues of inland water transport or the development of land approaches to the Arctic ports.

The iron words

Railway infrastructure lagging behind port infrastructure is one of the challenges in the industry. No wonder that Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized it in his Address to the Federal Assembly. According to him, it is necessary to increase the capacity of railway links to ports in the Azov and Black Sea basin over 1.5-fold to 131 million tonnes.

The demand for transshipment via those ports far exceeds their capacity, indeed. First of all, that is about dry cargo: coal, grain etc. According to Victor Olersky, Deputy Transport Minister of Russia – head of Federal Marine and River Transport Agency (Rosmorrechflot), the Azov-Black Sea Basin needs additional facilities for 53 mln t of cargo per year which are not covered by the current projects. This problem will be solved with implementation of the project on construction of Taman port’s dry cargo area designed for transshipment of more than 90 mln t. The development of the existing facilities is in progress. NKH and OTEKO have announced their ambitious plans. With the implementation of all those plans annual capacity of the ports in the basin can grow by 130-150 million tonnes, hence the necessity to develop throughput capacity of railway approaches    .

There are also ambitious plans for the development of port facilities in the Far East, also with respect to transshipment of coal and grain. 

Taking into account the demand of shippers, total deficit of Far East ports’ capacity will make 70 mln t per year by 2020 including 66.5 mln t of dry bulk cargo and 3.5 mln t of grain as we wrote earlier >>>> 

That requires the expansion of Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) and Trans-Siberian Mainline (Transsib). According to the President, it will grow 1.5 times, up to 180 million tonnes, in six years. 

Under the project approved three years ago, the carrying capacity of BAM and Transsib should grow by 66 million tonnes by 2020, over 30 million tonnes of which should fall to Far Eastern shippers. 

Apart from export/import operations, BAM and Transsib expansion is needed for the development of Asia-Europe container transit. Vladimir Putin said the volume of transit shipments on our railways must grow almost fourfold. 

However, the presidential address did not touch the development of railway infrastructure in the Northern Basin through the Bekomur or Northern Latitudinal Railway projects.

By the Northern routes

On the other hand, much attention was paid to cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route, which, according to the President, will surge tenfold to 80 million tonnes by 2025. In 2017, cargo traffic through the Northern Sea Route totaled almost 10 million tonnes. The growth should be attributed to shipment of 6 million tonnes of oil from the Novoportovskoye field. When Yamal-LNG project is fully operational, it will add 16 million tonnes of liquefied gas per year. 

Yet, to achieve the level of 80 million tonnes, transit cargoes should be attracted as well as industrial cargoes from the Urals and other regions. That will require additional investments in railway approaches. For example, there is a plan to build dry cargo terminals at port Sabetta. Their throughput capacity is estimated at 70 million tonnes per year.

According to Atomflot, the Northern Sea Route Russia needs at least nine additional icebreakers by 2025 (excluding those under construction).  To ensure transits of Europe bound ships via the Northern Sea Route the sector will need by 2025 additional four 40MW icebreakers, to escort cargo vessels to the East – five icebreakers, two of them with a capacity of 60 MW to be commissioned into service by 2025 and three 120 MW icebreakers should be available if the Asia bound traffic totals more than 50 million tonnes per year. 

The current nuclear icebreaking fleet will be unable to cope with its tasks by 2035. Atomflot expects the delivery of three nuclear-powered icebreakers in 2019-2021.

As for transit, its share in NSR traffic is not large – less than 200,000 tonnes in 2017. Meanwhile, global shipping companies are looking into using the Arctic routes. 

The first ship to transit the Northern Sea Route was that of Cosco Shipping back in 2013. Since that time the company has been using this Arctic route every year with the increasing intensity. 

Maersk is also considering arranging voyages along the Northern Sea Route involving ice-class boxships of 3,500 TEUs in capacity. 

Arctic shipping is also among the interests of Oldendorff Carriers.  In summer 2016, two vessels of this company delivered 70,000 t of coal each from Canada to Finland. Besides, the interest to the Northern Sea Route was expressed by Dynagas, Jan De Nul, Hansa Heavy Lift, etc.

Read more about the NSR prospects in IAA PortNews' interview with Sergey Kukushkin, Acting Head of the NSR Administration >>>> 

Unmanned shipping

Special attention was paid by Vladimir Putin to the innovations in shipping and shipbuilding. According to him, innovative solutions should be used for combining infrastructure with drones and digital marine navigation.

Those issues are in the competence of MariNet, the working group of the National Technological Initiative (NTI). 

As for digital navigation, Kronshtadt Group in cooperation with its partners is going on with studying the international practice of using е-navigation and is creating Russia’s first water area for e-navigation in the Eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, the Neva river, the Ladoga lake and part of the Svir river.

An unmanned training ship has already been built with the next step to build an unmanned cargo ship. The work on the project is being performed by Krylov State Research Center, Central Marine Research and Design Institute, CNIIMF, RAS Institute of Oceanology and Shipbuilding Center ‘Evers’. A consortium of operators, designers and developers is to be set up in Russia to implement the project. The consortium is expected to appear in 2018 after the customers of such ships are defined and agreements with them are signed.

Design of unmanned cargo ship is expected in Russia by 2019. The first and the second phases foresee the development of an information model and a concept of an autonomous bridge. The year of 2018 is to see the development of a vessel design and an onshore control center as well as the proposals on supplements to the regulatory framework for operation of unmanned ships. Specifications for vessel and control center construction are to be ready in 2019.

First unmanned ships are to be used for short-sea traffic, transportation of radioactive wastes and shipping via the Northern Sea Route.

Inland water problems

However, Vladimir Putin did not touch issues related to inland water transport while there are unsolved problems in this segment. Among them is the problem of tariffs for railway transportation during the navigation season. Under the pressure of pipeline and road transport, the railways have to take over cargoes from water transport through setting reduced tariffs. Vladimir Putin earlier spoke about this issue and emphasized the necessity to create a mechanism with Government representatives in the Boards of involved companies promoting a unified state policy in order to escape this kind of imbalance. However, no specific measures have been announced yet while the navigation season of 2018 is about to begin.

Another problem is the financing of inland water ways which is about 70% of the norm today. 

Apparently, the priorities outlined in the presidential address can provide the basis for revised strategic documents and state programmes. 

Vitaly Chernov