A Russian tanker, escorted by powerful nuclear icebreakers, successfully skirted the icebound Arctic coastline of Russia with a load of gas condensate for China.
The 114,564-tonne tanker Baltica is the first super vessel to navigate the northern waterway. Earlier, only ships with a maximum deadweight of 14,000 tonnes ventured the route. Officials said the successful journey proved the route was safe and economically viable.
The Arctic Sea route is almost twice faster than the Suez Canal route and about 15 per cent cheaper, according to Leonid Mikhelson, head of Novotek, a Russian natural gas company which sent the Baltica on its trailblazing voyage.
“Next year we’re planning to deliver more shipments of gas condensate to the markets of China and South Korea via the Arctic route,” the Novotek chief told a press conference in Moscow on Thursday. He said the new route would enable the company to build an LNG plant in gas-rich Yamal Peninsula in Russia’s northeast.
The northern route from the Russian port of Murmansk to Shanghai is 10,600 km long, while the Suez Canal one is 17,700 km. Shippers will save a million dollars per tanker in fuel costs alone.
Two icebreakers cleared the way for the Baltica through 4,000 km of icy seas before reaching the Russian port of Pevek in the Chukotsky Sea, from where the tanker will continue its journey to China on its own.
The Russian state-controlled shipping company Sovcomflot, which owns the Baltica tanker, said it planned to operate the new route during four summer months. The waterway may be open for longer periods if global climate warming causes Arctic ice to melt.
The opening of the northern route for tankers and other cargo ships could re-carve the global sea transportation map. Russia will be the biggest winner as the lucrative trade route runs through its territorial waters and it is the only country that has a fleet of nuclear icebreakers.