• 2020 October 16

    How realistic are Russian Arctic cruises?

    What hinders welcoming of foreign cruise liners in the water area of the Barents and White seas? What are possible ways to encourage more calls for a consequent development of the cruise sector in the North-West of Russia?

     The way along the Northern Europe coast to the Novaya Zemlya initially covered by Willem Barentsz, an outstanding Dutch navigator, back in the 16th century, is still attractive for tourists from various countries. International cruise companies like Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) regularly include the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk into the routes of their luxury liners offering the visit to the Solovetskie Islands, the gem of the White Sea. Such companies as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Silversea cruises with their ships designed for expedition cruises including those in the Arctic and Antarctic are ready to consider routes with a visit to the Frantz Josef Land and the Novaya Zemlya.

    In the cruise market, Russia’s West Arctic is represented by the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk as well as the Solovki port point. Taking into account their geographic location, ship owners mostly prefer including those ports into a single cruise programme. As INFLOT Worldwide Rus told IAA PortNews, the recent decade saw an upsurge of calls in 2015, up to 28 ships.

    The calls of 2010-2018

    2019: Murmansk – 4 calls, Arkhangelsk and the Solovetskie Islands – 2 calls each
    Calls cancelled in 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic: Murmansk – 3 calls, Arkhangelsk and the Solovetskie Islands – 2 calls each.

    What factors hinder welcoming of foreign cruise liners in the water area of the Barents and White seas? What are possible ways to encourage more calls for a consequent development of the cruise sector in the North-West of Russia?

    An expert opinion has been shared by INFLOT Worldwide Rus, the general marine and travel agent of most cruise ship owners which send their ships to the ports of the Russian Federation. The company specialists were involved in almost all major events in Russian ports having accumulated a unique experience and practical skills in comprehensive servicing of cruise ships.

    From 1998, INFLOT Worldwide has been welcoming cruise liners in the Barents Sea / White Sea region  through a close cooperation with the West Arctic Ports’ Administration. In 2020, the company signed an agreement with the Federal Tourism Agency in the sphere of marine cruise tourism that particularly covers activities facilitating the development of cruise tourism routes in the Russian Federation.

    What is essential for a cruise company selecting ports of call for its routes?

    1.    Geographic location, availability of infrastructure for a safe call and stay of ships.

    2.  Tourism potential of the port and its tourism infrastructure (guides, buses, museums, sights) as well as local tour operators.

    3.    Border crossing and customs regulations of the port (country) in respect of passenger/crewmember clearance and time needed for the required arrival/departure procedures.

    4.    Rate of port dues and charges for using port infrastructure as well as other expenses related to ship calls.

    Basing on the abovementioned parameters ship owners estimate profitability of ship calls to a certain port. According to the international practice, the cruise schedule including the ports of call and the route is normally developed by a ship owner at least one or two years prior to the cruise. With such a planning depth ship owners can sell their cruises in the highly competitive market and plan their expenses in advance.

    If all the parameters meet the requirements of a ship owner we will see the increase of calls to the level only limited by other factors like the total number of ships in the region, capacity of neighboring ports, etc.



    Length (m)

    Depth (m)


    Berth of long distance lines



    Berths NoNo 43-45 of the Fish Terminal




    Berths of the Econimia district



    Berths NoNo 149 – 150



    Solovki terminal







    Current specifics of each port in the Arctic region:

    1.    Murmansk

    The most developed port in the region. It operates a 201-meter berth for long-distance lines able to accommodate ships with a draft of up to 6.5 meters. It should be noted that the berth’s characteristics do not let it handle large cruise ships. Therefore, they have to moor at the berths of the cargo port. To solve this problem a project should be developed for dredging along the berth for long-distance lines and for installation of floating anchors with mooring rings. The size of the turning basin should also be taken into consideration in view of the navigation safety.

    Admittedly, most of ships engaged in cruise activities in the adjacent regions are larger than foreseen by the berth for long-distance lines.

    2.    Arkhangelsk

    The port infrastructure does not meet today’s requirements. Only smaller ships can enter the city center and moor at the Sea Terminal. The Sea Terminal itself needs an extensive reconstruction as it is currently cannot be used for arrival/departure clearance procedures or for servicing of passengers.

    Ships of up to 190 meters in length can dock beyond the city center, at cargo berths of the Econimia district which has no passenger terminal.

    Vessels longer than 190 meters cannot moor even in the Economia district due to constraints foreseen by the port regulations, neither can they moor off the port as the anchorage is too far from the shore. Thus, vessels featuring technical ability for offshore anchorage and disembarking of passengers have no practical ability to enter the port of Arkhangelsk.

    3.    Solovetskie Islands

    The port infrastructure only allows for mooring of small ships (up to 120 meters). There is an offshore anchorage for large vessels but they should have their own boats for delivery of passengers to the shore. Modernization of the existing infrastructure is needed for offshore servicing of ships as well as construction of a berth for safe docking of boats delivering passengers.

    It is also important that foreign-flagged ships bound for the Solovetskie Islands should preliminary call the ports of Arkhangelsk or Murmansk for state control procedures foreseen by border crossing rules of the Russian Federation.



    According to the table provided by INFLOT Worldwide Rus, ship owners are limited in terms of ship options when considering the region as a whole tourism product:

    - There are few ports in the Barents Sea / White Sea region, hence absence of alternatives for ship owners to develop cruise routes.

    - Port infrastructure is not sufficient for large cruise ships.  

    - Onshore tourist infrastructure does not meet the cruise industry standards.

    It should be also taken into consideration that the cruise business has been tending recently to build and operate larger ships aiming at reduction of internal costs and competition as well as the increase of their passenger capacity.

    The key prerequisite for the development of marine cruises in the West Arctic basin of Russia, including the water areas of the Barents and White seas and the coast of the Novaya Zemlya with its unique national  park “Russian Arctic”, is a unified strategy for cooperation of all stakeholders with the federal and regional bodies including the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation.

    A good example of effective cooperation is the investment project on creation of a tourist cluster in the Murmansk Region, Liinakhamary Port, that obtained a status of the Arctic Zone resident in autumn 2020. The project estimated at RUB 12.5 billion foresees the construction of world class infrastructure for cruise ships and yachts. It is to be completed by 2026. The project implementation is ensured by the Murmansk Region authorities together with Port Liinakhamary LLC, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Tourism Agency.

    Albert Svintitsky