Oil tankers without ice-class protection could soon start shuttling on Northern Sea Route

The two companies that produce many million tons of oil at Arctic fields might soon start to send shiploads to Asian buyers across the Northern Sea Route.

According to Rosatom, the nuclear power company that manages Russia’s fleet of nuclear icebreakers, there is a significant potential in oil shipments on the Arctic route.

Negotiations with the oil companies are already taking place, Rosatom representative Sergei Chemko confirmed in a meeting in the Federation Council this week. He believes oil from Lukoil’s Varandei terminal and Gazprom Neft’s Prirazlomnoye project could be sent across the route to the Asia-Pacific region in the period of the year without massive sea-ice, Interfax reports.

In summer and fall, the shipments can be made without ice-class tankers, Chemko argued.

“Unfortunately, we do not yet have large-size tankers with ice-class and therefore we offer our colleagues use of ordinary tankers with a guaranteed level of security, with escort of our icebreakers in the summer- fall season,” he explained.

Russia produces a significant share of its oil in far northern regions.

According to Gazprom Neft, Arctic fields today account for more than 30 percent of its total production. In 2020, production at the company’s Novy Port project increased five percent to a total of 14,89 million tons, and the offshore project Prirazlomnoye delivered 3,27 million tons, an increase of three percent year-on-year. In addition comes oil from Lukoil’s Varandey terminal, expected to reach more than 6 million tons in 2022.

It is far from the first time that oil tankers sail on the Northern Sea Route. In October last year, the 257 meter long oil tanker Vasily Dinkov made it across the route to the Chinese port of Rizhao.

The voyage tool place shortly before the EU introduced its oil ban on Russia. The Commission’s 6th package of sanctions, adopted in June last year, prohibits all purchase, import or transfer of crude oil and certain petroleum products from Russia to the EU. Russian companies today sell oil to China, India and other so-called “friendly countries” with a great discount.

According to Member of the Federation Council Konstantin Dolgov, Russia is able to overcome the troubles created by the sanctions.

“The current geopolitical situation triggers difficulties in resolving certain issues, but it is not sufficiently critical for a review of our general development plans,” he said during this week’s Council meeting devoted to the Northern Sea Route.

In 2023, shipments on the route is estimated to reach 33,12 million tons, he said.

The sea-ice across the Russian Arctic has over the past decade undergone a dramatic shrink.  Nevertheless, ice remains a major challenge for ships operating in the area even during summer and fall.

In November 2021, more than 20 ships got stuck in the remote area following a quick and early freeze of the waters.

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