Amid the attempts of the EU and western shipping companies to impose a trade blockade on Russia, domestic logistics makes a great turn: the foreign trade is urgently turning eastwards. Is there a sufficient number of containers in Russia, can they be produced locally and what can be done with those of ‘unfriendly’ lines?
As of today, containers are shipped every week from China to the Moscow railway hub and further. However, the market players note some problems: the growing demand for the eastern shipments entails the deficit of containers and the situation is aggravated by the railway infrastructure overloading.
In this respect, Russian Railways suggests extending the term of foreign containers stay in the territory of Russia from 90 to 180 days. Another, even more radical suggestion of Russian Railways, is as follows: container lines leaving Russia are to get their containers back only if they are loaded. The remaining foreign containers are supposed to be used for internal transportation of cargo.
“Container fleet availability is among the concerns when it comes to ensuring the transportation. The proposals developed after a joint meeting of the Ministry of Transport, Russian Railways and container operators and submitted to the Government of the Russian Federation for approval include the extension of foreign containers stay in the territory of Russia from 90 to 180 days, ability to use foreign containers for internal transportation of cargo and to return only loaded containers to lines leaving Russia. All of those proposals have been already developed as draft laws going through the required approval procedures,” Dmitry Gorokh, Deputy Head for cargo and commercial operations of the Center of Corporate Transportation Services, branch of Russian Railways, said at the conference "Containers and container shipping, high standards of cargo delivery” held in Saint-Petersburg.
Among the solutions is to use the innovative rolling stock in order to increase the carrying capacity, and container with increased gross weight. PAO TransContainer starts purchasing universal containers of increased gross weight since the revised ISO lets it be up to 36 tonnes and TransContainer has fitting platforms for 72 tonns. Thus, heavy open top containers offer good opportunities for transportation of dry bulk cargo.
Good prospects are also seen for the use of specialized containers. For example, Russian company RM Rail Engineering has developed new tank containers for transportation of LNG. Design document for the tank container with an inner vessel of stainless steel and the aluminium alloy 1581 has been approved by Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS). Production of pilot samples is underway. Manufacture of serial containers is to be organized at the production facilities of the company. Among the problems of such containers are high cost of vacuum insulation materials, deficit of vacuum valves for subzero temperature operation, need for steel with specific characteristics and dependence on imports of shut-off devices.
Moreover, containers made of composite materials may be allowed the international shipping from 2023. When speaking at the conference "Containers and container shipping, high standards of cargo delivery”, Aleksandr Fetisov, Head of Container Department of Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, Russia applied for inclusion of composite containers into the IMDG back in 2017 with the feasibility study involving RS and Uralvagonzavod. Upon completion of all the required procedures in UN, it was included into the agenda of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee meeting. The issue will be considered at the session scheduled for April 2022.
If approved, it can be included into the next edition of the Code effective from 1 January 2024. However, the use of composite containers on a voluntary basis will be allowed from 1 January 2023.
There are also innovative containers applying KOTTA technology. KOTTA containers feature a bottom discharge system for unloading by opening the floor panels. The can be used from handling of dry bulk cargo such as mineral fertilizers in case of lack of dedicated facilities.
RS also joined hands with Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) to calculate the strength of tank containers and offshore containers when developing designs according to RS requirements. In the result, the parties developed a software allowing for creation of a data base containing mechanical characteristic of materials and allowing for setting parameters of vessels and calculation of vessel elements’ strength as well as generation of docx/pdf reports on calculation results.
“RS now has an efficient instrument for checking the calculations provided by the customers of design documentation developers,” says Skoltech representative Ivan Sergeyichev.
At the same time, the stakeholders in the market of container production agree that state support is needed to compete with the Asian manufacturers in terms of prices. The price of Chinese containers is 20% less thanks to subsidizing.