Shipping operations support in the “High North”: examining availability of icebreakers along the Northern Sea Route

A rather significant number of business entities already operate within (or, have considered to exploit) the Arctic region, focusing upon previously untapped resources such as precious minerals and large quantities of oil and gas; touristic and fishing activities are clearly on the rise, with various endeavors of maritime transport also being put forward. Up until recently, harsh year-long environmental conditions have significantly hindered the necessary access and transport connections in the Arctic. Even in the case that weather conditions did permit vessels’ passage, unreliable navigational aids and lack of infrastructure/support provided obstacles difficult to overcome. However, environmental data recorded during the last couple of decades clearly indicates that there is a continuous decline of ice coverage in the “High North.” Given this steady decline, the Arctic has now been viewed as a promising field for economic activities and is considered as a potential connecting corridor between Asia and Europe/America (and vice-versa). As human presence and operations are expected to intensify there, it is of utmost importance to evaluate the current level of support towards ships that will be crossing the region; capabilities in relation to search and rescue (SAR) operations and oil spill response are also important. The analysis in hand will first deliver a discussion of the so-called Arctic Passages. While various different maritime routes have been proposed in relation to the Arctic, the most promising one, the Northern Sea Route (NSR), will provide the epicenter of discussion. Through an extensive literature review that includes numerous internet resources, the current analysis will identify the numbers of icebreakers already operating in the NSR, as well as those that will be commissioned into service in the near future. The choice to research the specific type of vessels is supported by a simple argument: icebreakers currently are and will continue to be in the foreseeable future the main “tool” to support shipping activities in the Arctic. Furthermore, emergency management capabilities in the Russian Arctic will be examined to include the current state of rescue coordination centres along with the availability of SAR assets. Additionally, the efforts thus far by the Arctic Council to increase coordination and interaction among the States involved in Arctic affairs will be summarized; the latter will be achieved via a brief review of a very important legally binding agreement: the “search and rescue” instrument. In conclusion, the Russian State has already heavily invested in icebreakers’ building and their current number is fully capable to handle the present level of limited traffic. On the other hand, ships are currently faced with long distances to cross (often without adequate support) adverse environmental conditions, unpredictable hurdles, and slow response times in case of an emergency. Therefore, in case ships operating in the region are increased, it will be difficult to deal with all the additional demands for support. Of particular interest is the fact that considering the vast area of the NSR, the overall available response capabilities in the region under discussion are rather thin; any further increase of maritime traffic in the “High North” must be balanced with additional strengthening of emergency management capabilities. In any case, should the NSR become fully integrated in the global maritime transport system, Russia’s geopolitical status will be clearly improved and further research is needed to discuss the implications both at the regional and global levels.
Institution/Organization World Maritime University (WMU)
Resource type Other Educational Resource
Language English
Field of Study Environmental protection (others)
Content Owner/Rights Holder Springer
Copyright/Licencing Information Open Access
Keywords ArcticHigh NorthNorthern Sea RouteShipping OperationsIcebreakers\' ServicesSearch and Rescue
Last updated 7/7/2020 11:27:23 AM