Yaroslav Semenikhin, Director General of Far-Eastern Marine Research Institute, tells about investment projects in Russia’s Far East
The development of Russia’s Far East has been recently addressed more and more frequently. Yaroslav Semenikhin, Director General of Far-Eastern Marine Research, Design and Technology Institute (FEMRI), tells IAA PortNews about the involvement of regional researchers into the development of national innovations.
— Mr. Semenikhin, FEMRI boasts a rich history. How does it feel today under a new wave of federal attention to the development of the region with the focus on your specialization - transport and logistics?
— Definitely, our institute is one of the oldest in the Far East, we will be 90 in a year. From the very beginning we were focused on the development of transport sector and maritime infrastructure. We participated, directly or indirectly, in the development of the entire port infrastructure of the Far East. In 1987, our staff numbered 1,160 employees. In 1990-ies we passed through painful processes, state financing was terminated. Yet we survived and managed to preserve our specialization through expansion of our activities. We have more work now but less employees - 350 people.
“Federal attention”, you say? Throughout our history, the state has been trying to develop a sort of optimal system to run the Far East. It has always been a challenge requiring huge investments. However, none of the ambitious programmes was fully implemented. The emphasis has always been put on the attraction of investors. The current situation features the development of detailed economic and administrative instruments: technological areas, economic zones, port zones, priority development areas and a ‘free port’ phenomenon. It is just the beginning and each person or organization working in the region is eager for participation and enjoying the changes.
— Russian designers are accused of long terms and high prices. What is you opinion?
— I can’t agree when it comes to prices. The cost of projects is very low in Russia. In foreign countries it makes up to 10% of investments into the project while it is from 0.5% to 3% in our country. Some officials don’t understand that intellectual work is a value. As for terms, it is a sensitive issue indeed. On the one hand, it is a technological problem of the institute (in fact, to meet the challenge we have been introducing and interactive BIM technology). To a greater extent, it is a systemic problem of the industry. For example, it takes three months to develop a project and then the process of expert approval can last for six months. It is a common practice in Russia. There are more than a hundred of controlling bodies.
— What about the technological level of your projects? is it the same as that of Japanese projects?
— It depends on the project. I acknowledge that our foreign colleagues have the access to more advanced technologies… However, in some cases we provide more favorable and interesting solutions. The quality of work depends on the specialization. Some foreign institutes are focused on a single segment while we have to differentiate our activities.
— How does FEMRI interact with the United Shipbuilding Corporation? What is your opinion on the Corporation’s main project – super shipyard at Bolshoi Kamen?
— It is a wonderful idea for the Far East and for Russia as shipbuilding is a center of attraction for technologies and achievements. Success depends on special economic environment and stable competent management. At the initial phase our institute proposed itself but other designers were selected. Designing of a shipyard is quite available for the Far Eastern designers while designing of vessels would be difficult as the number and competence of specialists is declining.
As of today, our institute has no ambitious orders from USC. We could develop conceptual designs for vessels intended for operation in the Far East but the customer prefers to have them developed in capital cities. Perhaps, they have a better understanding of the Far Eastern conditions.
— You are a member of the working group on the development of the Northern Sea Route. What research is being carried out or planned by the institute under this project?
— FEMRI used to work a lot on the Northern regions and we have our own base of transport and technological solutions taking into consideration the specific features of the Arctic eco-system. Today, we are working on the report on a voluntary basis. We could take part in certain projects. The Northern Sea Route is a good example illustrating diversity of the parameters: climatic, technological, ecological, economic and social. I would start with the question: is it a proper time for Russia to start this project or, perhaps, it is too early or late? What profit do we expect from transit? Yes, it is a realistic shipping route. Yes, we have specialized vessels like the Mikhail Ulyanov of Sovcomflot. However, when trying to incorporate our logistic scheme into a global one, we can make profit in one area and lose in the other (for example, in environment).
— How does the state use the potential of FEMRI for the development and implementation of recent innovations – PDAs and ‘free port’?
— Planning of transport development in the Far East is something that our institute has been doing traditionally. We used to adjust and correct the state plan through correlation of the center’s ideas with the multiple factors of each specific facility and the system as a whole. We do not have such a function today. There is no such an analytical center today. There is a Maritime Board and a Transport Committee under RF Government but there is no a unified regulating body, hence inconsistencies in the activities of different authorities.
Of course, new initiatives are not absolutely new for today’s Russia. There is a technological area with favourable conditions in Kaliningrad, we have Sollers. As for a ‘free port’, it is a progressive idea indeed, though, despite the name, it is focused on the territory rather than on the port activities. Our institute does not participate in the development of the ‘free port’ concept though we have some ready projects for social, economic and architectural development of Vladivostok. Today, local authorities use the projects developed in the western regions of Russia and focused on the social model while we suggest an economic model with projects aimed at boosting of cargo handling.
Any economic instrument requires not only a territory but also a resource. It may be an intellectual resource. Before doing anything, all the alternatives should be analyzed to select the most profitable and the safest one. I like the idea of a fishery cluster. It could stop the malpractice of selling our biological resources on the cheap. Fish processing is a much more profitable production as compared with, let’s say, coal transshipment. But the key factor here is the political will.
Location of production centers is a special issue. The will of investors prevails. Then discussions, arguments and barriers come. And everything starts again. No scientific approach is applied.
Interviewed by Yevgeny Pankratyev